Comparison of Helplessness and Hopelessness as Sources of Cognitive Vulnerability Among Black and White College Students

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The Cognitive Style Questionnaire (CSQ), an expansion of the Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ), was created as an enhanced measure of cognitive vulnerability to depression using a hopelessness theory framework. However, the CSQ’s development emphasized facets of cognitive vulnerability consistent with a Eurocentric worldview. Consequently, the CSQ may inadvertently degrade rather than enhance assessment of cognitive vulnerability to depression for Black participants whose vulnerability may be shaped by a different sociopolitical context. Participants were 259 White and 180 Black college students. As predicted, cognitive vulnerability to depression assessed via the reformulated learned helplessness (ASQ) but not hopelessness theory (CSQ) was associated with increased symptoms of depression for Black participants. The opposite pattern of results was found for White participants for whom hopelessness (CSQ), but not helplessness (ASQ) was associated with higher levels of depression symptoms. The current findings support the need for more extensive examination of social context and race in assessing cognitive vulnerability to depression.

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