Inhibitory control underlies one’s ability to maintain goal-directed behavior by inhibiting prepotent responses or ignoring irrelevant information. Recent models suggest that impaired inhibition of negative information may contribute to depressive symptoms, and that this association is mediated by rumination. However, the exact nature of this association, particularly in non-clinical samples, is unclear. The current study assessed the relationship between inhibitory control over emotional vs. non-emotional information, rumination and depressive symptoms. A non-clinical sample of 119 participants (mean age: 36.44 ± 11.74) with various levels of depressive symptoms completed three variations of a Go/No-Go task online; two of the task variations required either explicit or implicit processing of emotional expressions, and a third variation contained no emotional expressions (i.e., neutral condition). We found reductions in inhibitory control for participants reporting elevated symptoms of depression on all three task variations, relative to less depressed participants. However, for the task variation that required implicit emotion processing, depressive symptoms were associated with inhibitory deficits for sad and neutral, but not for happy expressions. An exploratory analysis showed that the relationship between inhibition and depressive symptoms occurs in part through trait rumination for all three tasks, regardless of emotional content. Collectively, these results indicate that elevated depressive symptoms are associated with both a general inhibitory control deficit, as well as affective interference from negative emotions, with implications for the assessment and treatment of mood disorders.
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