Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Jonathan Rottenberg, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Edelyn Verona, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Schlauch, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sandra Schneider, Ph.D.


Major depressive disorder, Emotion, Cognition, Depression


Recent research argued that people with major depressive disorder (MDD) tend to prefer sad stimuli because they want to upregulate their sad feelings. This paper aims to examine investigate the choice of emotional stimuli among those who have MDD, compared to individuals without MDD (healthy controls, HC), and explore the reasons for their choice. Seventy six female university students (38 per group) completed three tasks: 1) In the replication music task, participants listened to happy, neutral, and sad music excerpts, chose the one they wanted to listen most, and reported the reasons of their choice. 2) The Emotional Stimuli Selection Task (ESST)’s music task considered different intensity levels and another negative emotion (fear). Participants listened to 84 pairs of music clips and decided which one they would prefer to listen to. 3) In the ESST’s image task, the same procedure was run with images.

In the replication music task, MDD status predicted a greater likelihood of choosing sad music. However, compared to before listening, the MDD reported feeling more happiness and less sadness after listening to their chosen music. In addition, inconsistent with a motivation to upregulate persons with MDD singled out low intensity as their most frequently reported reason for choosing sad music. Results from the ESST’s music task showed that the MDD preferred low intense music, compared to the HC. These results suggested that the MDD may prefer sad stimuli not because they want to augment their sad feeling, but because they desire low intensity experiences. The MDD’s reduced preference for happy stimuli, relative to the HC, was found across ESST tasks. Implications as well as limitations of the study were discussed.