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Open Access Commentary

Tobacco smoking and depression: time to move on to a new research paradigm in medicine?

Peter de Jonge* and Elisabeth Henriette Bos

Author Affiliations

Interdisciplinary Center Psychopathology and Emotion regulation, University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, PO Box 30.001, 9700 RB, Groningen, the Netherlands

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BMC Medicine 2013, 11:138  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-138

Published: 24 May 2013


A recent paper published in BMC Cardiovascular Disorders reported on a study into whether tobacco smoking may serve as a risk factor for depression in patients with heart disease. In the current paper, we discuss several limitations of that study, of which many apply not just to the study itself but to the nomothetic research design that was used. Particularly when bidirectionality between variables is expected, fluctuation in variables over time takes place, and/or inter-individual differences are considerable, a nomothetic research approach does not seem appropriate, and may lead to false conclusions. As an alternative, we describe an idiographic approach in which individuals are followed up over time using many repeated measurements, and from which individual models are estimated. Such intensive time-series studies are not common in medicine, but are well described in the fields of econometrics and meteorology. Combining idiographic research designs with more traditional nomothetic designs may lead to research findings that are not only useful for society but also valid in individuals.

See related research article here webcite.

Tobacco smoking; Depression; Heart disease; Cohort study; Nomothetic; Idiographic