04/18/2013 06:54 pm ET

Depression Risk Factor, Cognitive Vulnerability, Could Be Contagious, Study Suggests


A known risk factor for depression could be "contagious" under the right circumstances, a small new study suggests.

Researchers from the University of Notre Dame found that "cognitive vulnerability" -- which is an outlook on life where you feel like everything is out of your control, and if anything, is born out of your own deficiencies -- can actually "rub off" on people when they are going through a big transitional life event. "Cognitive vulnerability" is a known risk factor for depression, researchers noted.

The study, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, included 103 college freshmen roommate pairs. The roommates had all been randomly assigned to each other. Researchers had all the participants fill out an online questionnaire for depressive symptoms and "cognitive vulnerability" right when they got to campus, and then had them complete the questionnaire again three months and six months later. They also reported stressful life moments.

Researchers found that freshmen who were randomly assigned to live with a person with high "cognitive vulnerability" scores had a higher chance of going on to also have high levels of "cognitive vulnerability."

Plus, they found a strong association between high levels of "cognitive vulnerability" and depressive symptoms at six months.

Past research has suggested that negative thinking could also rub off on spouses, too. A 2000 study in the Journal of Family Psychology showed that people whose spouses have depression are also more likely to feel abandoned or alienated, WebMD reported.