Difficulties with prospective mental images are associated with adolescent depression. Current treatments mainly focus on verbal techniques to reduce negative affect (e.g. low mood) rather than enhancing positive affect, despite anhedonia being present in adolescents. We investigated the concurrent relationships between the vividness of negative and positive prospective mental imagery and negative affect and positive affect; and examined whether negative and positive prospective mental imagery moderated the impact of recent stress (COVID-19-linked stress) on negative and positive affect.
2602 young people (12–25 years) completed the Prospective Imagery Task and self-reported on symptoms of negative affect, anhedonia and COVID-19 linked stress.
Elevated vividness of negative future mental imagery and reduced vividness of positive future mental imagery were associated with increased negative affect, whereas only reduced vividness of positive future imagery was associated with increased symptoms of anhedonia. Elevated vividness of negative future images amplified the association between COVID-19 linked stress and negative affect, while elevated vividness of positive future images attenuated the association between COVID-19 linked stress and anhedonia.
Future mental imagery may be differentially associated with negative and positive affect, but this needs to be replicated in clinical populations to support novel adolescent psychological treatments.