Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Jonathan Rottenberg


affect, depression course, longitudinal, psychophysiology, subthreshhold depression


Major depressive disorder (MDD) is highly recurrent. Researchers have proposed that certain traits predispose people to repeated episodes of this disorder. The current study examined the hypothesis that maladaptive emotional responding to stimuli would predict a worse depression outcome over six months. Participants were 58 individuals--18 controls, 22 individuals with MDD, and 18 individuals with minor depression (mD; subthreshold depression)--who participated in a diagnostic interview and emotion-modulated startle procedure at time one, and who returned for a second diagnostic interview six months later at time two. An identical emotion-modulated startle procedure was then repeated at time two with 33 individuals--12 controls, 14 individuals with MDD, and 7 individuals with mD. Startle probes were presented during unpleasant, neutral, and pleasant pictures, as well as during inter-trial intervals (ITI) in the absence of pictures. We used eye-blink startle responses to predict the time two level of depression severity and the likelihood of depression recurrence. Time one startle in the context of neutral pictures predicted depression outcomes at time two, such that larger time one startle responses during neutral pictures were associated with the presence of a time two depressive episode and higher time two self-report scores of depression severity (Beck Depression Scale scores). In addition, startle responses during ITIs (occurring in the absence of pictures) also predicted depression outcome, but in the opposite direction. Specifically, larger time one startle responses during ITIs were associated with better time two depression outcomes. We discuss the implications of these results.