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Depression, motivation and stress interact to influence cardiovascular health

A research paper on depression, motivation, and stress reactivity by Tracey M. Keogh, Dr Siobhán Howard, Adam O’Riordan and Prof. Stephen Gallagher was published in Psychophysiology (November 2020).

Cardiovascular stress responses (i.e., cardiovascular reactivity; CVR) and depression have been linked to subsequent onset of cardiovascular disease (CVD), yet the mechanistic association is poorly understood. Recent developments suggest the relationship between depression and blunted (lower) CVR is linked to a person’s level of motivation. For example, a lack of motivation or poor motivational control is considered a feature of depression and among other forms of psychopathology (e.g., addiction). Research to date reports that those who display higher symptoms of depression also exhibit an unhealthy CVR to stress; these individuals have a relatively lower blood pressure response compared to those who are not depressed.”.

It is proposed that individuals with greater depressive symptoms may lack the motivation necessary to cope with stress or engage in tasks that mimic stress in real life, and perhaps this impaired behavioural response results in blunted or lower CVR to psychological stressors.

This study examined this possibility. Here we tested if the relationship between depression and CVR was influenced by motivation (intrinsic and extrinsic) in a cardiovascular stress reactivity paradigm.

As expected, depression did predict blunted reactivity (systolic blood pressure and heart rate were lower in those who scored high on depression) and this was happening via intrinsic motivation, but not extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is where an individual does not need external rewards like money to keep them motivated, rather they are driven by internal factors such as competency and satisfaction. Our finding is the first to move beyond theory and to find empirical evidence for such an interlinked pathway from depression and blunted reactivity through motivation; but also suggests that interventions to improve stress and coping in those with depression should involve motivational aspects.

Link to the paper is here


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