There is evidence for an altered self-focusing style during depression (Kanfer & Hagerman, 1981; Pyszczynski & Greenberg, 1987; Ingram, 1990). Here, a new process-model is proposed in which a cognitive style of avoiding self-focused attention is a risk factor for depression. According to the model, individuals with heightened risk for depressive illness tend to terminate states of self-focused attention earlier than low-risk individuals. This leads to deficient representations of experiential processes, dysfunctional self-regulation, and a rapid alternation of attentional focus. Two factors are assumed as critical in this process, namely the Zeigarnik-effect caused by uncompleted intentions (Zeigarnik, 1938) and the rebound-effect resulting from actively avoiding unwanted thoughts (Wegner, 1989). Uncompleted intentions and paradoxical effects of cognitive avoidance cause attention to be continually drawn inward. The heightened self-focus in depression would consequently be the result of a breakdown of this maladaptive type of self-regulation. Paradigms to test these assumptions are delineated for future research and implications for psychotherapy are discussed.
KEYWORDS: self-focus, avoidance, interference, rumination, vulnerability, depression, alexithymia, experiencing, focusing