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Attributional style and depression

  • Harriet A. Ball (a1), Peter McGuffin (a1) and Anne E. Farmer (a1)

Few studies have examined whether attributional style (an individual's explanation of why events happen) is a genetically influenced vulnerability factor for depression.


To investigate whether attributional style is an enduring vulnerability trait for recurrent depression.


As part of the Cardiff Depression Study, we interviewed 108 people with depression and their siblings, and a control group of 105 healthy individuals and their siblings, using the Schedules for Clinical Assessment in Neuropsychiatry and the Life Events and Difficulties Schedule. Participants also completed the Attributional Style Questionnaire.


Regression analyses showed that attributional style results from mood state and is not a familial risk factor for depression. However, the tendency to internalise negative events was related to having had a prior episode of depression, suggesting a ‘scarring’ effect. Also, non-severe events were associated with one subset of optimistic attributions.


Attributional style mainly measures current mood and does not reflect a familial risk factor for depression.

Corresponding author
Harriet Ball, Box 080, MRC Social Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK. Email:
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The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: 0007-1250
  • EISSN: 1472-1465
  • URL: /core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry
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Attributional style and depression

  • Harriet A. Ball (a1), Peter McGuffin (a1) and Anne E. Farmer (a1)
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