Depression risk factor could be "contagious"
A new study with college roommates found that if one of them is vulnerable to depression, the other could begin to develop a similar way of viewing events.
Other studies have shown that people who respond negatively to stressful life events, interpreting them as the result of factors they can't change and as a reflection of their own deficiency, are more vulnerable to depression. This "cognitive vulnerability" is such a potent risk factor for depression that it can be used to predict which individuals are likely to experience a depressive episode in the future. And now researchers at the University of Notre Dame say this kind of thinking can “rub off” on roommates.
The study involved 103 randomly assigned pairs of college roommates, all of whom had just started their freshman year. One month into college, the students filled out a survey that measured cognitive vulnerability and depressive symptoms, and again took the survey three and six months later. The results indicated that those who roomed with a student with a high level of cognitive vulnerability were likely to "catch" that type of thinking, while those who were paired with someone with more positive thoughts experienced lowered levels of cognitive vulnerability. The contagion effect was apparent in the follow ups as well.
Cognitive vulnerability is a risk factor of depression. Students who showed an increase in cognitive vulnerability in the first three months of college were twice as likely to experience depressive symptoms by the six-month follow up.