Open Access Open Badges Research article

Disorder-specific cognitive profiles in major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder

Sanne M Hendriks1*, Carmilla MM Licht2, Jan Spijker34, Aartjan TF Beekman2, Florian Hardeveld1, Ron de Graaf4 and Brenda WJH Penninx256

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry, Pro Persona Mental Health Care, Willy Brandtlaan 20, Ede 6717 RR, The Netherlands

2 Department of Psychiatry, VU University Amsterdam, A.J. Ernststraat 887, Amsterdam 1081 HL, The Netherlands

3 Pro Persona Mental Health Care, Radboud University Nijmegen, Reinier Postlaan 6, 6525 GC Nijmegen, The Netherlands

4 Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction, Da Costakade 45, Utrecht 3521 VS, The Netherlands

5 Department of Psychiatry, Leiden University Medical Center, Albinusdreef 2, Leiden 2333 ZA, The Netherlands

6 Department of Psychiatry, University Medical Center Groningen, Hanzeplein 1, Groningen 9713 GZ, The Netherlands

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BMC Psychiatry 2014, 14:96  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-14-96

Published: 1 April 2014



This investigation examines differences in cognitive profiles in subjects with major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).


Data were used from subjects with current MDD (n = 655), GAD (n = 107) and comorbid MDD/GAD (n = 266) diagnosis from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA). The Composite Interview Diagnostic Instrument was used to diagnose MDD and GAD. Cognitive profiles were measured using the Leiden Index of Depression Sensitivity, the Anxiety Sensitivity Index, and the Penn State Worry Questionnaire.


Results showed that differences in cognitive profiles between single MDD and single GAD subjects were present: scores on hopelessness/suicidality and rumination were significantly higher in MDD than GAD, whereas anxiety sensitivity for physical concerns and pathological worry were higher in GAD than MDD. The cognitive profile of comorbid MDD/GAD showed more extreme depression cognitions compared to single disorders, and a similar anxiety profile compared to single GAD subjects.


Despite the commonalities in cognitive profiles in MDD and GAD, there are differences suggesting that MDD and GAD have disorder-specific cognitive profiles. Findings of this investigation give support for models like the cognitive content-specificity model and the tripartite model and could provide useful handles for treatment focus.

Major depressive disorder; Generalized anxiety disorder; Cognitive profiles; Treatment; Classification