Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 14, Issue 6, pp 589–608 | Cite as

Judgment of control and depression: The role of self-esteem threat and self-focused attention

  • Mario Mikulincer
  • Hanna Gerber
  • Matisyohu Weisenberg


This study assessed the effects of threat to self-esteem and self-focused attention (i.e., presence of a mirror) on judgment of control among students scoring high or low on depression. Subjects completed the Beck Depression Inventory and were asked to judge control for controllable and uncontrollable problems. Subjects were further divided according to (a) messages varying in the extent to which lack of control threatened self-esteem, and (b) the presence/absence of a mirror. Findings showed that nondepressives estimated more control over uncontrollable events than depressives. In addition, high-threat subjects estimated more control over uncontrollable events than low-threat subjects only under no-mirror conditions. The presence of a mirror eliminated the overestimation of control. Finally, results showed that the presence of mirror led depressives to underestimate control over controllable events. Results were discussed in terms of the motivational hypothesis of illusion of control and the role played by self-focused attention in depression.

Key words

depression judgments of control self-esteem threat self-focused attention 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abramson, L. Y., Seligman, M. E. P., & Teasdale, J. (1978). Learned helplessness in humans: Critique and reformulation.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87 49–97.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Alloy, L. B., & Abramson, L. Y. (1979). Judgment of contingency in depressed and nondepressed college students: Sadder but wiser?Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 108 441–485.Google Scholar
  3. Alloy, L. B., & Abramson, L. Y. (1982). Learned helplessness, depression, and the illusion of control.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42 1114–1126.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Alloy, L. B., Abramson, L. Y., & Viscusi, D. (1981). Induced mood and the illusion of control.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41 1129–1140.Google Scholar
  5. Allport, G. W. (1943).Becoming: Basic considerations for a psychology of personality. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Beck, A. T. (1976).Cognitive therapy of emotional disorders. New York: New American Library.Google Scholar
  7. Beck, A. T., Rush, A. J., Shaw, E., & Emory, G. (1979).Cognitive therapy of depression. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  8. Beck, A. T., Ward, C., Mendelson, M., Mock, J., & Erbaugh, J. (1961). An inventory for measuring depression.Archives of General Psychiatry, 4 561–571.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Blaney, P. H. (1986). Affect and memory: A review:Psychological Bulletin, 99 229–246.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Bower, G. H. (1981). Mood and memory.American Psychologist, 36 129–148.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Bumberry, W., Oliver, J., & McClure, J. N. (1978). Validation of the Beck Depression Inventory in a university population using psychiatric estimate as the criterion.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 46 150–155.Google Scholar
  12. Brockner, J. (1979). Self-esteem, self-consciousness, and task performance: Replications, extensions, and possible explanations.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37 447–461.Google Scholar
  13. Carroll, B. J., Fielding, J. M., & Blashky, T. G. (1973). Depression rating scales.Archives of General Psychiatry, 28 361–366.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (1978). Self-focusing effects of dispositional self-consciousness, mirror presence, and audience presence.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36 324–332.Google Scholar
  15. Erikson, E. H. (1950).Childhood and society. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  16. Garber, J., & Hollon, S. D. (1980). Universal versus personal helplessness: Belief in uncontrollability or incompetence.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 89 56–66.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Gibbons, F. X. (1983). Self attention and self-report: The “veridicality” Hypothesis.Journal of Personality, 51 517–542.Google Scholar
  18. Gibbons, F. X., Smith, T. W., Ingram. R. E., Pearce, K., Brehm, S. S., & Schroeder, D. J. (1985). Self-awareness and self-confrontation: Effects of self focused attention on members of a clinical population.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48 662–675.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Golin, S., Jarret, S., Stewart, M., & Drayton, W. (1980). Cognitive theory and the generality of pessimism among depressed persons.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 89 101–104.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Golin, S., Terrell, F., & Johnson, B. (1977). Depression and the illusion of control.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 86 4440–442.Google Scholar
  21. Golin, S., Terrell, F., Weitz, J., & Drost, P. L. (1979). The illusion of control among depressed patients.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 88 454–457.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Ingram, R. E. (1984). Toward an information-processing analysis of depression.Cognitive Therapy and Research, 8 443–478.Google Scholar
  23. Ingram. R. E. (1986).Information processing approaches to clinical psychology. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  24. Ingram. R. E., Lumry, A. E., Cruet, D., & Sieber, W. (1987). Attentional processes in depressive disorders.Cognitive Therapy and Research, 11 351–360.Google Scholar
  25. Ingram, R. E., & Smith, T. W. (1984). Depression and internal versus external focus of attention.Cognitive Therapy and Research, 8 139–152.Google Scholar
  26. Isen, A. M. (1984). Affect, cognition, and social behavior. In R. S. Wyer & T. R. Scrull (Eds.),Handbook of social cognition (Vol. 3, pp. 179–236). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  27. Kendall, P. C., Hollon, S. D., Beck, A. T., Hammen, C. L., & Ingram. R. E. (1987). Issues and recommendations regarding use of the Beck Depression Inventory.11, 289–299.Google Scholar
  28. Klein, D. C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (1976). Reversal of performance deficits and perceptual deficits in learned helplessness and depression.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 85 11–26.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Kuiper, N. A., & Derry, P. A. (1982). Depressed and nondepressed content self-reference in mild depressives.Journal of Personality, 50 67–80.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Kuiper, N. A., & Olinger, L. J. (1986). Dysfunctional attitudes and a self-worth contingency model of depression. In P. C. Kendall (Ed.),Advances in cognitive-behavioral research and therapy (pp. 115–142). Orlando, FL: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  31. Lewinsohn, P. M., Mischel, W., Chaplin, W., & Chaplin, W., & Barton, R. (1980). Social competence and depression: The role of illusory self-perception.Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 89 203–212.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Lobitz, W. C., & Post, R. D. (1979). Parameters of self reinforcement and depression.Cognitive Therapy and Research, 88 33–41.Google Scholar
  33. Martin, D. J., Abramson, L. Y., & Alloy, L. B. (1984). The illusion of control for self and others in depressed and nondepressed college students.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46 126–136.Google Scholar
  34. Mehlman, R. C., & Snyder, C. R. (1985). Excuse theory: a test of the self-protective role of attributions.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49 994–1001.Google Scholar
  35. Miller, W. R., Rosellini, R., & Seligman, M. E. P. (1977). Learned helplessness and depression. In J. D. Maser & M. E. P. Seligman (Eds.),Psychopathology: Experimental models (pp. 104–130). San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.Google Scholar
  36. Musson, R. F., & Alloy, L. B. (1989). Depression, self-consciousness, and judgements of control: A test of self-focused attention hypothesis. (unpublished).Google Scholar
  37. Pryor, J. B., Gibbons, F. X., Wicklund, R. A., Fazio, R. H., & Hood, R. (1977). Self-focused attention and self report validity.Journal of Personality, 45 513–527.Google Scholar
  38. Roth, D., & Rehm, L. P. (1980). Relationships among self-monitoring processes, memory, and depression.Cognitive Therapy and Research, 4 149–157.Google Scholar
  39. Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (1977). Self-focused attention and the experience of emotion.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35 625–636.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Scheier, M. F., Carver, C. S., & Gibbons, F. X. (1981). Self-focused attention and reactions to fear.Journal of Research in Personality, 15 1–15.Google Scholar
  41. Segal, Z. V. (1988). Appraisal of the self-schema construct in cognitive models of depression,Psychological Review, 103 147–162.Google Scholar
  42. Smith, T. W., & Greenberg, J. (1981). Depression and self-focused attention.Motivation and Emotion, 5 323–331.Google Scholar
  43. Snyder, C. R., & Higgins, R. L. (1988). Excuses: Their effective role in the negotiation of reality.Psychological Review, 104 23–35.Google Scholar
  44. Taylor, S. E., & Brown, J. D. (1988). Illusion and well-being: A social psychological perspective on mental health.Psychological Bulletin, 103 193–210.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Vazquez, C. (1987). Judgment of contingency: Cognitive biases in depressed and nondepressed subjects.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52 419–431.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Winer, B. J. (1971).Statistical principles in experimental designs. New York: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mario Mikulincer
    • 1
  • Hanna Gerber
    • 1
  • Matisyohu Weisenberg
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBar-Ilan UniversityRamat GanIsrael

Personalised recommendations