PsychologicalReports, 1991, 68, 1209-1210. O Psychological Reports 1991
G E N D E R DIFFERENCES I N T H E ATTRIBUTION O F CAUSES FOR DEPRESSED FEELINGS ' PAUL R. ROBBINS AND ROLAND H. TANCK Silver Spring, Marylond Summary.-30 male and 32 female undergraduates were asked to report over a 10-day period whether they had felt depressed and, if yes, what was causing their depressed feelings. As predicted from a sex-role framework, the men were more likely than the women to attribute the cause to academic concerns while the women were more likely than the men to attribute the cause to problems in interpersonal relationships.
Research has indicated that men and women not only differ in the likelihood of becoming depressed (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1987) but also in the type of depressed symptoms expressed (e.g., Funabiki, Bologna, Pepping, & Fitzgerald, 1980) and in the kind of problems that are linked to depressed affect (e.g., Robbins & Tanck, 1984). One explanation for such findings is that trahtional sex roles influence the types of situations that are likely to trigger depressed feelings in men and women. For example, men who have traditionally been more career-oriented than women might have a greater tendency to experience depressed feelings when faced with career-related problems, while women who traditionally have focused more on interpersonal relations than men might be more likely to feel depressed when relationship problems arise. Working within this framework, we examined two hypotheses dealing with the attributions male and female undergraduates would give for the causes of their depressed feelings. The first hypothesis was that women would be more likely than men to point to problems in their interpersonal relationships. The second hypothesis was that men would be more likely than women to point to academic concerns. To test these hypotheses, a study was carried out on a sample of 62 students (30 men, 32 women) taking undergraduate psychology classes at George Washington University. The students elected to participate in the study as one means of fulfihng course requirements. The median age of the students was 20 years. I n a prelim~nary assessment, the Beck Depression Inventory (Beck, Ward, Mendelson, Mock, & Erbaugh, 1961) was administered to the students. Fifteen percent of the students scored 16 or above, a criterion suggesting moderate levels of depression. Men and women did not differ significantly. The students were asked to report nightly in a diary for a period of 10
'Address correspondence to Paul R. Robbins, 8401 Parkcrest Drive, Silver Spring, MD 20910.
F? R. ROBBINS & R. H. TANCK
days whether they had felt depressed that day. If they responded yes, the students were asked, "What do you think was causing these depressed feelings?" The responses to this question were coded for the presence or absence o f problems in interpersonalrelationships (breaking up,insecurity about a present relationship, feelings of rejection, thoughts about past relationships, loneliness) and academic concerns (tests, grades, term papers, studying). Each subject received a score for the number of days in which the category was coded present. To assess the objectivity of the procedure, two analysts coded all cases independently; rs between the coders for the two scores were .92 for interpersonal problems and .90 for academic concerns. Of the 62 students, 56 reported feeling depressed on at least one day during the sampling period. Men and women did not differ in the number of days in which they reported feeling depressed but did differ as predicted in the attributions made for the cause of feeling depressed. Women had higher scores for interpersonal problems (M = 1.07, SD = 1.16) than men (M = .59, SD = .84; t,, = 1.74, p < .05, one-tailed) and men had higher scores for academic concerns (M = 1.85, SD = 2.05) than women (M = .79, SD = .94; t,, = 2.45, p < .01, one-tailed). While these data support previous studies in point.. ing t o the importance of sex roles in understanding depressed feelings, one should keep in mind that the findings are based on a self-report technique, reflect a limited time sampling, and we used a normal, not a cliniially depressed sample. It should also be remembered that we are dealing with perceived causes for depressed feelings not objective measures of behavior. REFERENCES BECK,A. T., WARD,C. H., MENDELSON, M., MOCK,J., & ERBAUGH, J. (1961) An inventory for measuring depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 4 , 561-571. F m n e w , D., BOLOGNA, N. C., PEPPING,M., & FITZGERALD, K. C. (1980) Revisiting sex differences in the expression of depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 89, 194-202. NOLEN-HOEKSEMA, S. (1987) Sex differences in unipolar depression: evidence and theory. Psvcholonical Bulletin. 101. 259-282. . ROBBINS, P. R., & TANCK, R: H. (1984) Sex differences in problems related to depression. Sex Roles, 11, 703-707.
Accepted June 21, 1991