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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.”