Psychologist Gerald Haeffel (Themed Grant ’20-’21) and ND Psychology Major Lily Brouder (UROP ’21) Conduct Research on Depression in Black Americans

Author: Joshua Hubbard

Two ISLA-funded researchers at Notre Dame recently gained new insight into depression, one of the most common and debilitating mental health conditions.

Some psychologists argue that a cognitive vulnerability makes certain people especially susceptible to depression. Prof. Gerald Haeffel defines this cognitive vulnerability in depressed individuals as “the tendency to generate interpretations of life stress that have overly negative implications for their future and self-worth.”

“Research on the cognitive vulnerability hypothesis has focused almost exclusively on white college students,” according to Haeffel. Haeffel found few studies on cognitive vulnerability among Black Americans, despite the fact that depression rates tend to be higher among Black Americans than White Americans and that Black Americans are likely to experience particularly high levels of stress due to systemic racism and recent national events.

To address this gap in understanding, Haeffel set out to test the broader relevance of the  cognitive vulnerability theory of depression with the support of an ISLA “Race and Ethnicity in the US” themed grant. Using an online participant platform, Haeffel surveyed 100 Black Americans. The results supported Haeffel’s initial hypotheses. Haeffel was “able to reliably detect individual differences in cognitive vulnerability and depressive symptoms in Black Americans,” and found that “cognitive vulnerability was positively correlated with depressive symptoms.”

Haeffel hopes the research will shed light on the causes and possible treatments for depression. This project is part of a broader effort by Haeffel to understand “the cognitive processes and products that contribute to risk and resilience for depression.”

Lily Brouder, an undergraduate psychology major at Notre Dame, participated in this research project and received support from ISLA’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. Brouder’s related poster presentation was awarded a RISE research award from the Association for Psychological Science, which “acknowledges outstanding psychological science research related to under-represented populations or conducted by students from diverse backgrounds.” Brouder also received the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology Global Mental Health Student Poster Award.

Haeffel is an associate professor in the department of psychology at Notre Dame.