British Journal of Clinical Psychology

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Volume 41 Issue 2 (June 2002), Pages 111-220

Beck's cognitive theory of depression: A test of the diathesis‐stress and causal mediation components (pages 111-128)

Objectives: This prospective study tested the diathesis‐stress and causal mediation components of Beck's (1967, 1983) cognitive theory of depression.

Design: In order to allow for a stringent test of the aetiological component of Beck's theory, we used a short‐term longitudinal design in which participants' dysfunctional attitudes were assessed prior to the occurrence of a negative event.

Methods: In all, 136 high school seniors applying to the University of Pennsylvania completed measures of depressed mood and dysfunctional attitudes 1‐8 weeks before receiving their admissions decision (Time 1). The assessment of dysfunctional attitudes was preceded by a priming task designed to activate latent depressogenic schemata. Participants also completed measures of depressed mood, negative views of the self, and negative views of the future shortly after they received their admissions decision (Time 2) and four days later (Time 3).

Results: Consistent with the diathesis‐stress component of Beck's theory, dysfunctional attitudes predicted increases in depressed mood immediately following a negative admissions outcome (Time 2). In addition, consistent with the causal mediation component of the theory, in negative outcome students, the relationship between dysfunctional attitudes and increases in depressed mood was mediated by negative views of the future. Contrary to predictions, however, this relationship was not mediated by negative views of the self. In addition, contrary to predictions, dysfunctional attitudes did not predict enduring depressed mood after a negative outcome (Time 3).

Conclusions: Individuals with dysfunctional attitudes are likely to show increases in depressed mood following the occurrence of negative events. The relationship between dysfunctional attitudes and increases in depressed mood following the occurrence of negative events is mediated by negative views of the future.

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