It is widely accepted that stress plays an important role in vulnerability to depression (e.g., see Hammen, 2005
, for a review). Diathesis-stress models, which emphasize that pre-existing vulnerabilities lead to disorder only in combination with stressors, focus on how the environment impacts individuals but are relatively silent about how individuals affect their environments. As such, there has been increasing emphasis on transactional processes, wherein individuals contribute to the occurrence of stressors in their lives, and these stressors, in turn, affect the individuals’ symptomatology.
applied this transactional model to depression, finding that depressed women experience more dependent
stressors; that is, stressors they contributed to the occurrence of in a process labeled stress generation.
It was suggested that these stressors predict further depression. Stress generation findings have been widely replicated (e.g., see Hammen, 2005
, for a review), but the message of this research has often been oversimplified as “depression causes stress.” However, individuals with a history of depression have elevated levels of dependent stress even when they are not
currently depressed (e.g., Hammen, 1991
), suggesting that depression alone cannot explain stress generation. Yet few studies have examined the factors that impact stress generation, and in turn, depression. The current study aims to fill this gap by examining a transactional, interpersonal model of stress and depressed mood in female college students involved in romantic relationships. It focuses on three vulnerability factors for depression: attachment, reassurance seeking, and dependency/sociotropy.
posited that insecurely attached individuals develop negative views of themselves and their relationships based on early experiences, making them more susceptible to depression. Indeed, insecure romantic attachment is associated with vulnerability to depression (e.g., Eberhart & Hammen, 2006
; Whiffen, 2005
). However, the mechanism of this effect is unclear. There is evidence that romantic attachment interacts with interpersonal stressors in predicting depressive symptoms (Hammen et al., 1995
). There is also evidence that interpersonal stressors mediate the relationship between attachment and depressive symptoms (Hankin, Kassel, & Abela, 2005
), but it is unclear if these results extend to romantic attachment.
suggested that depressed individuals excessively engage in reassurance seeking behaviors which elicit negative responses from others, ultimately increasing their depressive symptoms. Studies have demonstrated an association between reassurance seeking and depression, and further, that reassurance seeking interacts with achievement-related stress in predicting depressive symptoms (e.g., Joiner & Metalsky, 2001
). To our knowledge, just one study has tested the transactional model: Pothoff et al. (1995)
found that interpersonal stressors mediated the relationship between reassurance seeking and depressive symptoms.
Sociotropy (e.g., Beck, 1987
) and dependency (e.g., Blatt, Quinlan, Chevron, McDonald, & Zuroff, 1982
) capture another perspective on depression (“dependency” will be used to encompass both). Beck and Blatt suggested that individuals high in dependency excessively emphasize relationships, making them vulnerable to depression in response to interpersonal difficulties (e.g., Beck, 1987
; Blatt et al., 1982
). Many studies have found that dependency is associated with depression (e.g., Cogswell, Alloy, & Spasojevic, 2006
), including a daily diary study (Stader & Hokanson, 1998
), and diathesis-stress studies have found that dependency interacts with stressors in predicting depression (e.g., Shahar, Joiner, Zuroff, & Blatt, 2004
). However, only one study has provided evidence for a transactional model in which stressors mediated the relationship between dependency and depressive symptoms (Shahar & Priel, 2003
In sum, while there is evidence that attachment, reassurance-seeking, and dependency are associated with vulnerability to depression, there are gaps in this body of research. Most saliently, the mechanism
through interpersonal style influences depressed mood is unclear. It is uncertain whether a diathesis-stress model or a transactional, stress generation model is most applicable, given that few studies test transactional models, and studies have not examined the different models in the same sample. As such, the current study examines both models. They are examined both prospectively over a four-week period and within a day, providing both macro- and micro-level examinations of vulnerability to depressed mood. The study excluded individuals with current disorders and controlled for current depressive symptomatology, in order to minimize effects of mood on interpersonal style. It focused on women because females are more susceptible to interpersonal stressors and depression (e.g., Shih, Eberhart, Hammen, & Brennan, 2006
). It focused on romantic relationships because forming intimate relationships is a salient developmental task for the study’s college-aged sample (e.g., Erikson, 1950
In a prior article, the authors laid the foundation for the present study by providing evidence that anxious attachment and reassurance seeking predict romantic conflict stressors over four weeks, and a variety of interpersonal behaviors predict the stressors on a daily basis (Eberhart & Hammen, in press
). The current study expands on this research by examining models of the mechanism linking interpersonal style and stress to depressed mood, including a transactional model in which romantic conflict stressors mediate the relationship between interpersonal style and depressive symptoms () and a diathesis-stress model in which interpersonal style interacts with stressors in predicting symptoms ().
Transactional (mediation) model of stress and depression.
Diathesis-stress (moderation) model of stress and depression.