- autobiographical memory
- executive functions
- anterior cingulate cortex
- ventro-lateral prefrontal cortex
Autobiographical memory (AM) comprises representation of both specific (episodic) and generic (semantic) personal information. Depression is characterized by a shift from episodic to semantic AM retrieval. According to theoretical models, this process (“overgeneralization”), would be linked to reduced executive resources. Moreover, “overgeneral” memories, accompanied by a negativity bias in depression, lead to a pervasive negative self-representation. As executive functions and AM specificity are also closely intricate among “non-clinical” populations, “overgeneral” memories could result in depressive emotional responses. Consequently, our hypothesis was that the neurocognitive profile of healthy subjects showing a rigid negative self-image would mimic that of patients. Executive functions and self-image were measured and brain activity was recorded, by means of fMRI, during episodic AMs retrieval in young healthy subjects. The results show an inverse correlation, that is, a more rigid and negative self-image produces lower performances in both executive and specific memories. Moreover, higher negative self-image is associated with decreased activity in the left ventro-lateral prefrontal and in the anterior cingulate cortex, repeatedly shown to exhibit altered functioning in depression. Activity in these regions, on the contrary, positively correlates with executive and memory performances, in line with their role in executive functions and AM retrieval. These findings suggest that rigid negative self-image could represent a marker or a vulnerability trait of depression by being linked to reduced executive function efficiency and episodic AM decline. These results are encouraging for psychotherapeutic approaches aimed at cognitive flexibility in depression and other psychiatric disorders.