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Senior Elyse Hutcheson investigated how negative life events impact a person’s likelihood of developing depression.
Elyse Hutcheson | Courtesy

 

Senior psychology major Elyse Hutcheson may have spent the summer studying hopelessness, but she said she’s optimistic about how the research opportunity helped her prepare for the future.

Hutcheson studied causes of a subtype of depression called hopelessness depression at Temple University in Philadelphia. She conducted her research in their mood and cognition lab, where she helped maintain the lab and code data. Hutcheson worked with a graduate student in the lab, assisting with a study she said has been in progress for at least nine years and involves around 1,000 people. When the results are published, Hutcheson will be listed as a co-author of the study.

“The project they had was a longitudinal study following people from around age 11 or so through college and looking at their negative inferential styles,” she said. “So when an event happens, what are you attributing that event to? Are you attributing it to yourself or to outside circumstances?”

Hutcheson said if someone believes that he or she is responsible for something bad that happens and believes the bad circumstances will always be his or her fault, this is known as a stable inference. She said people are more likely to develop a sense of hopelessness when they have stable and global negative inferential styles.

“We were looking at whether or not people are likely to develop depression as a result of a negative life event in a certain domain of their life,” she said. “You learn a lot in psychology classes about self-concepts — what’s important to you, how you view yourself in the world around you. Our hypothesis was related to the fact that some people have a self-concept that’s very based in achievement events, whereas other people have a self-concept that’s very based in interpersonal events.”

The researchers tested whether people’s self-images could affect their likelihood of developing depression after a negative event occurred in a valued area of their lives. For example, a person who has a highly interpersonal self-image may be more strongly affected by a friend’s rejection than by a negative event that occurred in a less-valued area of his or her life.

“This is a prediction made by the hopelessness theory of depression formulated by Abramson, Metalsky, and Alloy in 1989,” Naoise Mac Giollabhui, a graduate student Hutcheson worked with, said in an email. He added that Hutcheson worked in Lauren Alloy’s lab, which is under the supervision of the professor of psychology who helped formulate the hopelessness theory of depression.

“What we found was that there wasn’t really a specific vulnerability,” Hutcheson said. “Basically, negative interpersonal events and negative achievement events are both general vulnerabilities for developing depression no matter how much you prioritize them. If a bunch of negative events are building up, no matter what domain they’re in, you’re going to be more likely to be depressed.”

Hutcheson said the internship was a valuable experience because she plans to earn her doctorate in clinical psychology, which is a researched-based degree, and intends to continue studying factors that can help people cope with depression more effectively.

She said she appreciated the opportunity to work with graduate students on a project that aligns with her passion for psychology. She is also the vice president of Lighthouse, a campus club that promotes conversation about mental health.

“That’s what I’m really passionate about,” Hutcheson said. “That’s why I want to do clinical psychology. I want to help people get better and understand themselves.”

Mac Giollabhui said he appreciated Hutcheson’s initiative and attention to detail.

“It was really excellent working with Elyse,” he said. “She showed all of the qualities that you would look for in a young researcher. We were working on testing some hypotheses formulated by the hopelessness theory of depression, a theoretical account of why individuals become depressed, and Elyse frequently tried to ground these abstract concepts in real-world examples.”

Assistant Professor of Psychology Collin Barnes said Hutcheson’s research will help her in her future studies in psychology.

“Elyse is an excellent student in our department, sensitive both to the theoretical and human side of the discipline,” Barnes said in an email. “Her involvement this summer in the internship marks one of a number of steps she is taking to make her goal of becoming a clinician a reality. Her ability to engage empirically and conceptually with human psychology is a strength that will make her, I believe, an excellent researcher of depression or whatever else she chooses to investigate in the future.”