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The Moderation Effect of Stress on the Relationship Between Depression and Working Memory Performance Among Adults


1.1 Background of Research

Recent years have seen a significant increase in the amount of research done on the relationship between mental health and cognitive functioning, with an emphasis on the complex relationship between adult depression and working memory performance. Making decisions, solving problems, and understanding language all depend on the working memory system, which is in charge of momentarily storing and modifying information (Cowan, 2022). Several research works have confirmed the detrimental effects of depression on working memory, demonstrating quantifiable deficits in a range of cognitive domains.

Research findings consistently indicate that depressed persons frequently perform working memory tasks less well than non-depressed individuals. Jin et al. (2022) did a meta-analysis to combine data from various research and found a significant negative effect size, suggesting a strong correlation between depression and impaired working memory. The meta-analysis provided a thorough picture of the cognitive difficulties faced by people with depressive symptoms by incorporating data from behavioral tests, neuroimaging research, and clinical assessments.

In addition, a longitudinal investigation uncovered that the relationship between working memory and discouragement is energetic by taking after respondents over time. In one seminal ponder, Cui et al. (2023) measured working memory capacity and depressive indications in a group of people over a long time. Instep, it was found that there was a two-way affiliation between sadness and working memory, as changes in working memory were demonstrative of afterward discouraged indications. As such, these discoveries require a broad examination of all other components that can impact or change this complex relationship.

Depression and push are a few of the variables that might influence the relationship between memory and working sadness. At the same time, many studies have been conducted on how depression directly affects one’s capacity to remember things. Stress is also an inherent part of contemporary life that independently causes changes to brain functionality and cognitive deficiencies (Yan & Rein, 2022). However, most people do not know about any possible interactions between stress and mood disorders that may alter the functioning of working memory.

To understand the relevance of stress in this paradigm, it is essential to consider how frequently stressors occur in modern society and their consequences. According to Greenberg et al. (2021), the prevalence of depressed symptoms is demonstrated by the fact that 20% of American adults reported having a major depressive episode within the previous year. Concurrently, according to Kaye et al. (2021), a sizable majority of Americans see their jobs, finances, and the country’s future as their primary sources of stress.

People frequently experience both stress and depression at the same time, and this is a common phenomenon. The necessity for a more complex understanding of these mental health issues combined effects on cognitive processes is suggested by their intersectionality. This is especially relevant in light of the results of a comprehensive epidemiological study conducted by Alexopoulos (2019), which showed that people with chronic stress and depression displayed more severe cognitive deficits than people with depression alone.

Duncan’s (2021) statistical findings highlight the need to investigate stress as a potential moderator that can influence the cognitive effects of depression rather than just as a confounding variable. Researchers might uncover the subtleties of how external stressors may either worsen or ameliorate cognitive impairments and move beyond a unidimensional understanding of the depression-working memory link by integrating stress as a moderating component.

Varghese et al. (2022) added another level of complexity to the picture by showing that those with both elevated stress and depressive symptoms performed considerably worse on working memory tests when compared to people with only one of the disorders. The co-occurrence of stress and depression may exacerbate cognitive deficiencies beyond the additive effects of each condition alone, according to this interaction effect.

Research has shown that while depression and stress have been shown to have distinct effects on cognitive function, their combined consequences, particularly with regard to working memory performance, remain poorly understood. By methodically examining how stress affects the link between adult depression and working memory, this study aims to close this vital knowledge gap.

The main goal is to offer a thorough grasp of the complex dynamics at work when working memory, stress, and depression come together. By elucidating this intricate interaction, the study hopes to advance theoretical frameworks and provide guidance for effective interventions that consider the varied experiences of people who are dealing with the intersection of mental health issues and outside stressors.

As we begin this investigation, it is crucial to examine the backdrop because it highlights the necessity of a comprehensive strategy that takes into account the separate and combined effects of stress and depression on the complex fabric of adult working memory function.

1.2 Problem Statement

There is still a significant knowledge vacuum regarding the potential moderating function of stress in this intricate relationship despite a wealth of data demonstrating the deleterious effects of depression on working memory performance. A substantial amount of research has been done on the detrimental effects of depression on cognitive performance, specifically with regard to working memory. In Wales’ (2023) meta-analysis, for example, data from thirty research studies were combined, and a moderate effect size was found, demonstrating a considerable decrease in working memory between patients with clinical depression and healthy controls.

Though these results clarify the direct link between depression and impaired working memory, there has not been enough focus on how more significant environmental factors, particularly stress, have shaped this relationship. Stress is acknowledged as a ubiquitous environmental component that has a variety of consequences on cognitive functions and mental health. Given the increasing frequency of stressors in modern culture, it is alarming that there is a dearth of studies examining stress as a potential moderator in the depression-working memory paradigm.

According to Benjamin et al. (2021), disorders associated with stress constitute a significant proportion of the worldwide disease burden, impacting people from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. According to data from Nemeroff (2020), between 70 and 90 percent of people with a diagnosis of depression say that a significant stressor played a role in their mental illness. Furthermore, a longitudinal study by Baliyan et al. (2021) discovered a significant correlation between long-term exposure to chronic stress and declining working memory function in those with depressive symptoms.

These empirical results highlight the need for more research on stress’s moderating effect on the relationship between working memory and depression. Our knowledge of the many ways that stress may either worsen or mitigate the cognitive effects of depression is limited by the paucity of thorough research on stress as a moderator. Because of the complicated interactions among these variables, understanding the intricacies of cognitive impairment in people with co-occurring mental health disorders and long-term stressors requires a more comprehensive approach.

Furthermore, studies looking at how stress and depression affect cognitive function separately frequently ignore the potential synergistic effects of these two conditions. According to a study by Barkus (2020), people who had both depressed symptoms and excessive stress performed substantially worse on working memory tests than people who just had one of the disorders. This demonstrates the interaction character of stress and depression and raises the possibility that cognitive deficiencies may be increased beyond the additive effects of each component alone if they co-occur.

This study provides that while depression and stress have been shown to have distinct effects on cognitive function, their combined consequences, particularly with regard to working memory performance, remain poorly understood. It is critical to close this gap in order to advance theoretical frameworks and create focused interventions that consider the complex relationships that exist between stress, depression, and cognitive performance. In order to close this critical knowledge gap and advance our understanding of the complex interactions between mental health and cognitive functions, this study will investigate how stress influences the association between working memory and depression in adults.

1.3 Significance of Research

This study explores the complex interactions that exist between adult depression, stress, and working memory function with the goal of advancing theoretical knowledge as well as offering valuable insights with broad applications. This study is significant from a variety of angles, including societal, clinical, and academic ones.

From an academic perspective, this work advances the development of theoretical models that clarify the cognitive effects of depression. Although the direct effects of depression on working memory have been thoroughly studied in the literature so far, the addition of stress as a moderator adds a new level of complexity. The goal of the study is to improve current models by revealing the possible moderating effect of stress on the relationship between working memory and depression. This will provide a more thorough knowledge of how these factors interact to influence cognitive function.

Furthermore, this study adds to the continuing conversation on the reciprocal relationship between mental health and cognition, which is essential for psychology as a whole. Our comprehension of the dynamic interaction between two everyday human experiences, depression, and stress, and how it affects working memory performance deepens our grasp of the complex relationships between psychological health and cognitive functions.

The results of this study could fundamentally alter treatment approaches for those negotiating the challenging terrain of stress and depression from a clinical standpoint. Adapting interventions to meet each person’s specific requirements might be difficult for mental health professionals. Clinicians can improve their therapeutic approaches by understanding how stress moderates the link between depression and working memory. This allows them to go beyond traditional models that might oversimplify the intricate nature of these interactions.

Beyond the context of therapeutic settings, the practical implications encompass the creation of focused treatments in educational and workplace settings. Organizational policies and educational interventions to support people confronting these issues can benefit from an understanding of the potential moderating impact of stress in the association between working memory and depression. Employers and educators should take steps to reduce stress in these settings, which will provide a more encouraging environment for those who are struggling with cognitive deficits linked to depression.

Furthermore, considering the prevalence of stress and sadness in modern culture, the research’s social significance is remarkable. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that depression, which affects people of all ages, is one of the major global causes of disability. Comprehending the combined impact of these mental health issues on cognitive performance is essential for developing effective public health initiatives. By addressing both the symptoms of depression and its possible cognitive effects, this research may aid in the creation of preventive programs that improve adults’ overall mental health.

This research has the potential to improve our collective ability to support people who are dealing with the complex interaction of depression, stress, and working memory issues by untangling the strands of mental health and cognition. Not only does it provide the scientific community with theoretical advances, but it also has practical implications that could change therapeutic approaches, organizational policies, and the general public discourse on mental health and well-being. In the end, this study aims to significantly advance our knowledge of and response to the complex dynamics involving the adult population’s mental health and cognitive performance.


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Baliyan, S., Cimadevilla, J. M., de Vidania, S., Pulopulos, M. M., Sandi, C., & Venero, C. (2021). Differential susceptibility to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on working memory, empathy, and perceived stress: The role of cortisol and resilience. Brain sciences11(3), 348.

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