Executive functioning

Attentional control and cognitive control (i.e., executive functioning) regulate what information from the environment enters conscious processing and how well that information can be processed and utilized or discarded. When these processes go awry, particularly in the context of negatively-valenced information or stimuli, they may lead to negative mood states and factors associated with depression risk and depression severity. We were the first group to show that while monozygotic (MZ) twins discordant for depression show no differences in neuropsychological functioning, they exhibit attentional impairment relative to MZ twins with no family history of depression. These results suggest the attentional impairments observed in depression are not associated with depression state or history as previously hypothesized and assumed, but rather familial risk for depression. We then examined how aberrant executive functioning may lead to depression via intermediate processes like attentional biases and rumination, providing the first empirical evidence connecting executive functioning to depression via these depressogenic phenotypes. We also examined the differential relationship of these executive processes with depression and anxiety. Unlike studies in non-clinical samples, our findings suggest that impaired attentional focusing, but not attentional shifting, appears to play a significant role in depression and anxiety maintenance.

Relevant work

  • Hsu, K.J., Forgeard, M.J.C., Stein, A., Beard, C., & Björgvinsson, T. (in press). Examining differential relationships among self-reported attentional control, depression, and anxiety in a transdiagnostic clinical sample. Journal of Affective Disorders.
  • Hsu, K.J., & Davison, G.C. (2017). Compounded deficits: the association between neuropsychological impairment and attention biases in currently depressed, formerly depressed, and never depressed individuals. Clinical Psychological Science, 5(2), 286-298.
  • Hsu, K.J., Beard, C., Rifkin, L., Dillon, D.G., Pizzagalli, D.A., & Björgvinsson, T. (2015). Transdiagnostic mechanisms: the association between attentional control, rumination, and clinical symptomatology. Journal of Affective Disorders, 188: 22-27. Doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2015.08.008
  • Beard, C., Donahue, R.D., Dillon, D.G., Van’t Veer, A., Webber, C., Björgvinsson, T., Lee, J., Barrick, E., Hsu, K.J., Foti, D., Carroll, F.I., Carlezon Jr., W.A., & Pizzagalli, D.A. (2015). Abnormal error processing in depressive states: a translational examination in humans and rats. Translational Psychiatry, 5(5), e564. doi:10.1038/tp.2015.54
  • Hsu, K.J., Young-Wolff, K.C., Kendler, K.S., Halberstadt, L.J., & Prescott, C.A. (2014). Neuropsychological deficits in major depression reflect familial risk more than clinical history: a monozygotic discordant twin-pair study. Psychiatry Research, 215(1): 87-94.

Kean J. Hsu
Postdoctoral Research Fellow

My research interests include attention and executive functioning, repetitive negative thinking, and emotional disorders.