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Shannon Jones talks about the value of encouraging participants to think positively.
Katy Anderson/the Gauntlet

Study sheds light on dark subject

Depression research studies power of positive thought

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A research project at the University of Calgary is looking into how an individual's frame of mind may affect whether or not they have a relapse into depression.

"In the study we're currently looking at risk factors for depression," said Depression Research Lab coordinator Shannon Jones. "Ultimately, we're looking at when individuals are placed in a negative mood how different ways of thinking will impact them becoming more depressed. Also, [we're looking at] whether a particular way of thinking will affect whether or not they make different attributions of the cause of an event."

Participants in the study, who all have past experience with depression, are asked to describe a negative event in their past and what they feel caused the event. How subjects approach an event changes how much they feel they are responsible for it.

Next, participants are induced into a negative mood with sad classical music while describing the event, and assigned to three groups with two different ways of thinking, rumination and mindfulness, and a control group.

"The main object of study is to look at one way of thinking, which is mindfulness," said Jones. "Now that's rooted in eastern philosophy, religious tradition, meditation [and] yoga. A lot of people are familiar with the term in that respect. What it teaches is for individuals to be accepting and aware in the present moment, nonjudgmental of their thoughts and feelings, just letting the feelings pass through them."

Rumination causes individuals to focus and over-analyze their symptoms, where mindfulness is more adaptive, and is about accepting feelings or thoughts when something negative happens, said Jones.

"Let's say you apply for a job and don't get it," said Jones. "When you're mindful, you can say, 'Okay, I'm disappointed I didn't get that job, I feel pretty down on myself. However, I'm allowed to feel this way. It's normal to feel this way in this situation--this will pass.' [If you were ruminating and you applied] for a job and didn't get it, you'd probably say, 'I didn't get that job. It probably means I'm not going to get another job, so there's no point in trying.' [You] focus on the negative aspects of the event. It tends to put people in a downward spiral."

The study was started last January by a PhD student who has gone on to become a psychologist, and is the third of four studies on the topic of mindfulness. Jones hopes to finish collecting and begin analyzing data by the spring and is looking to have the results published within a year.

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