Year: 2017 Source: Psychiatry Research. (2017). Published online 20 September 2017. SIEC No: 20170637

The motivation to avoid psychological pain may characterize a suicidal mindset. This study examines how this motivational manifestation of suicidal ideation modulates the maintenance of affective information in visual working memory (WM). Forty-five outpatients with major depressive disorder (MDD) and twenty-five healthy participants performed visual WM change localization tasks with emotional (e.g., positive or negative schematic facial expressions) and non-emotional (e.g., colors) stimuli. The number of items that participants retained in WM (i.e., capacity) for each of those stimuli was measured. Based on the Beck Scale for Suicide Ideation, MDD patients were categorized into high and low suicidal ideation groups. These two groups had comparable depression levels. In addition to showing a smaller overall WM capacity for emotionally neutral information (colors), MDD patients with high suicidal ideation retained fewer negative schematic facial stimuli in WM. This disproportional reduction in the amount of negative information held in visual WM was correlated with levels of suicidal ideation and psychological pain across participants. Together, these results reveal the impact of pain avoidance motivation on information processing in WM and provide a novel perspective to understand aberrant cognitive patterns that are potentially driven by maladaptive affective processing in individuals with higher suicide risk.