Pattern of impaired working memory during major depression

E. J. Rose, K. P. Ebmeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

224 Scopus citations


Background: The aim of this study was to assess working memory (WM) in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD), using a robust parametric WM task (the n-back task). Methods: Twenty patients with MDD and twenty healthy controls completed a visual version of the paradigm, comprising four levels of task difficulty (i.e. 0-, 1-, 2-, and 3-back). Performance accuracy and reaction time (RT) were measured at each difficulty level. Results: In comparison with controls, patients with MDD exhibited slower RTs (F(1,38) = 25.16, p < 0.001), and reduced accuracy (F(1,38) = 5.93, p < 0.001). There was no diagnosis-specific effect of task difficulty on performance accuracy. However, the faster response to memory (1-3-back) than to shadowing (0-back) tasks observed in controls was not as pronounced in patients. Conclusions: These observations support a relatively specific impairment of WM/central executive function in MDD, which may potentially mediate the diverse pattern of cognitive dysfunction noted in MDD. The parametric n-back task is applicable to subjects with MDD and yields results interpretable across the dimensions of task difficulty and performance in controls and patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-161
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Feb 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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