Open Access Open Badges Research article

Life changes and depressive symptoms: the effects of valence and amount of change

Elise C Bennik*, Johan Ormel and Albertine J Oldehinkel

Author Affiliations

University of Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen, Department of Psychiatry, Interdisciplinary Center Psychopathology and Emotion Regulation (ICPE), Groningen, The Netherlands

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BMC Psychology 2013, 1:14  doi:10.1186/2050-7283-1-14

Published: 21 August 2013



Only few studies have focused on the effects of positive life changes on depression, and the ones that did demonstrated inconsistent findings. The aim of the present study was to obtain a better understanding of the influence of positive life changes on depressive symptoms by decomposing life changes into a valence and an amount of change component.


Using hierarchical multiple regression, we examined the unique effects of valence (pleasantness/unpleasantness) and amount of change on depressive symptoms in 2230 adolescents (Mage: 16.28 years) from the TRAILS study.


Adjusted for age, gender and pre-event depressive symptoms, the amount of life change was positively associated with depressive symptoms. A small excess of positive life changes predicted fewer symptoms, but experiencing a large excess of positive life changes did not have any additional beneficial effects, rather the opposite. Valence was more strongly associated with cognitive-affective than with neurovegetative-somatic symptoms.


More positive life changes relative to negative life changes can protect against depressive symptoms, yet only when the amount of change is limited. This study encourages examination of the effects of life changes on specific symptom clusters instead of total numbers of depressive symptoms, which is the current standard.

Positive/ negative life events; Adolescents; Cognitive-affective; Neurovegetative-somatic depressive symptoms