Cognitive Vulnerability


I was listening to Morning Edition yesterday and was intrigued by Shankar Vedantam’s story, Gloomy Thinking Can Be Contagious. The story talks about how the people you see every day, like a college roommate, can effect your outlook on life. Essentially, if you live with a person with a pessimistic worldview, you are more likely to be negative. Cheery people tend to make you more cheerful. I did a bit more digging and read the study done at Notre Dame. To oversimplify the study, Haeffel and Hames found that when a person is in a cognitively vulnerable state, depressive thoughts can be contagious.

I’m fascinated by the idea that depression can be contagious.

I know quite a bit about the hopelessness that descends on a person when they are depressed. Most of the characters I write about are depressed. I spend hours exploring what in their background could have brought on their depression. Have I been barking up the wrong tree? Could mood be influenced by the company they keep? Are they cognitively vulnerable to depression? What do you think about depression being contagious?

Related articles:
Cognitive Vulnerability to Depression Can Be Contagious

4 thoughts on “Cognitive Vulnerability

  1. That is a really cool idea! and I think it definitely is true that depression or negativity is “contagious.” It’s difficult to be around people who are like that; they tend to bring others down. But sometimes depression is brought about by circumstances. Or even basic personality one is born with. I don’t there’s just ONE reason. It’s varies, and can be a combination of things, in my opinion. 🙂

    1. Eeep, typos. I don’t THINK there’s just one reason, and IT varies. I need to proof my comments before I post them! (and there’s no way I see that I can delete the first one; hence, this PS).

      1. It is a neat idea, isn’t it?
        Depression is a multifaceted slippery beast to get a handle on. There are many ways it manifests in a person’s life and came be brought on by all sorts of events. I’ve read extensively about the hereditary and chemical links to depression and understand how that works. Biology is instructive but not very fun as a fictional device. Event-based causation is easily understandable, and seemingly more easily treated, but a bit too linear for a good plot. The concept of a person who is in a vulnerable state being psychologically skewed by the people around them is ripe for fiction. Could they be intentionally manipulated? How could they be portrayed through story? The possibilities are endless.

  2. Our state of mind is hugely influenced by our environment – bright colours, lively music, positive attitudes…

    Aberdeen, the granite city, is very grey, and gets very little sunlight, and the people there are prone to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), in other words the greyness is very depressing. I find it frustrating when clothing fashion obsesses about muted shades, because I wander round the shops wondering why I should buy anything at all (on those rare occasions I go shopping). I have a bright red shirt (that my wife hates) that always puts me in a good mood if I dare to wear it.

    But people… are social creatures. We like to be the same, because then we feel safe. So if people around us are angry, bitter, nervous, depressed, then it resonates. And that’s why cities, and even parts of cities, have very different atmospheres, from very friendly, to very stuffy.

    The idea of having a character being manipulated through their vulnerability… it’s a difficult one, I think, because we generally like reading about strong characters. I find it irritating when the protagonists aren’t aware of things that should be apparent to them and that are obvious to the reader.

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