Positive prospective mental imagery plays an important role in mental well-being, and depressive symptoms have been associated with difficulties in generating positive prospective mental images (PPMIs). We used a mobile app to gather PPMIs generated by young adults during the COVID-19 pandemic and analyzed content, characteristics, and associations with depressive symptoms.
This is a secondary analysis of a randomized controlled trial with 95 healthy young adults allocated into two groups (intervention and control). Participants used the mobile app decreasing mental health symptoms for seven consecutive days. Fifty participants in the intervention group reported PPMIs at least three times per day using a mobile app inducing PPMI generation. We categorized entries into themes and applied moderation models to investigate associations between PPMI characteristics and depressive symptoms.
We distinguished 25 PPMI themes. The most frequent were related to consuming food and drinks, watching TV/streaming platforms, and doing sports. Vividness and ease of generation of PPMIs, but not their anticipation, pleasure intensity or number of engagements with the app were associated with fewer depressive symptoms.
We identified PPMI themes in young adults and found significant negative associations between depressive symptoms and vividness and generation ease of PPMIs. These results may inform prevention and intervention science, including the design of personalized interventions. We discuss implications for future studies and treatment development for individuals experiencing diminished PPMI.