There are many theories to explain depression. One of the most complete is Lewinsohn’s autofocus theory (1985), a behavioral-cognitive theory focused on explaining the origin, maintenance and worsening of depression.
Behavioral-cognitive theories focus on the personal variance of the Person x Situation interaction and include among its elements cognitive processes.
So let’s see what Lewinsohn’s theory is all about, as well as its most important features.
Lewinsohn autofocus theory: general characteristics
We know that depression is a mental disorder that affects the way we think, live and feel. So, in most cases, we know that it comes from a set of events, both external and internal. This, in addition to other factors, is maintained by certain patterns of behavior that we perpetuate that allow this depressive state.
In his theory, Lewinsohn points to environmental factors as the main culprits of depression; however, he also talks about cognitive factors involved in this occurrence, maintenance and worsening. In other words, for him, cognitive factors are mediators of depression, as we will see later.
The main mediating factor is increased self-awareness. Lewinsohn defines autofocus as a transient and situational state where the person focuses on himself, Or the amount of attention that the person turns to himself rather than to the environment.
Chain of events
Lewinsohn’s autofocus theory proposes that the development of events be as follows.
First, an antecedent event appears. This event increases the likelihood that depression or a future stressor will occur. This way, there is a disruption of adaptive behavior patterns, And the person is unable to develop other models to replace the above.
It generates a negative emotional reactionThe intensity of which depends on two factors: the importance of the event for the person and the level of disturbance in daily life.
Thus, a negative imbalance is generated with respect to the quality of the person’s interactions with their environment, which results in a decrease in positive reinforcement and an increase in the rate of aversive experiences.
Critical mediating factors
In summary, Lewinsohn’s theory of autofocus on depression suggests that the chain of events leading to the onset of a depressive episodeThe critical factors that mediate the effects of the reduced rate of positive reinforcement on depression are:
- An increase in self-awareness (Autofocus).
- An increase in negative experiences.
- A person’s failure to cope with stress (For example, a vital event, such as a loss).
More precisely, Lewinsohn proposes to add two elements to generate a high level of self-awareness: on the one hand, the commented negative emotional response, as well as the negative impact due to the person’s inability to cancel the consequences of stress. like that, this sum gives rise to a high state of consciousness.
This self-awareness determines the origin of three factors: cognitive impairment, negative behavioral consequences and the intensification of previous emotional reactions.
The increase in self-awareness, as well as an intensification of negative emotions, come from the person decreased self-esteem and a series of cognitive, emotional and behavioral changes which correlate with depression. In turn, these changes heighten self-awareness, creating a vicious cycle that sustains and worsens depression.
Characteristics that predispose to depression
Lewinsohn’s autofocus theory proposes a series of predisposing characteristics that increase the risk of a depressive episode or depressive disorder. These are:
- Be a woman.
- Be between 20 and 40 years old.
- Have a history of depression.
- Have little ability to adapt.
- Have a great sensitivity to aversive events.
- To be poor.
- Show a strong tendency towards self-awareness.
- Have low self-esteem.
- Have a low threshold for activating depressogenic auto-patterns.
- Shows interpersonal dependence.
- Have children under 7 years old.
On the other hand, Lewinsohn also raises in his model a number of protective factors against depression. These are basically three:
- Self-perceived as possessing high social competence
- Frequently experience positive events
- Have a close, close person who you can trust.
On the other hand, Lewinsohn’s autofocus theory also materializes the existence of feedback loops which determine the level of severity and duration of a depressive episode.
On the other hand, he considers that a depressed mood is necessary to produce the negative consequences of depression; this depressed mood therefore plays a central role.
- Horse (2002). Manual for the cognitive-behavioral treatment of psychological disorders. Flight. 1. Madrid. 21st century.
- Psychology UNED. (2018). Mood disorders: psychological theories. Retrieved from: isipedia.com.