Relationship Between Depression and Reaction

Relationship Between Depression (from heartbreak) and Reaction Time

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October 2nd, 2022

















Relationship Between Depression (from heartbreak) and Reaction Time

There are many reasons that can cause depression and a cognitive developmental delay, but this review is going to be looking at depression that comes from a relational breakup (heartbreak) and how this effects their reaction time. When an individual undergoes emotional distress that was caused by heartbreak it can lead the individual to negative effects such as, having an increased risk of physical illness and stress-related diseases (Izzati & Takwin, 2018). Young-adults, according to Erikon’s theory are going thothe developmental stage of intimacy versus isolation (Izzati & Tawkin, 2018; Erikson 1968). This emphasizes that young adults are either developing intimate relationships with other individuals or they are being isolated from society. Naturally when an individual is actively pursuing an intimate relationship with another individual and this fails, heartbreak is expected. One should never underestimate the effects that a heartbreak can cause to an individual. Heartbreak can result into emotional distress and even in grief responses (Izzati & Takwin, 2018; Kaczmarek et al., 1990 in Lepore & Greenber, 2002). There can be different levels of heartbreak, an extreme level can cause emotional distress from a heartbreak that can link a person to horrid scenes, such as psychopathology or even death (Izzati & Takwin, 2018; Field, 2011).

The aim of this study was to explore the relationship between depression from heartbreak and the effects of cognitive development, more specifically, reaction time in individuals who range from 14-24 years of age. The participants were assessed by using the Beck Depression Inventory Scale (Streiner, 2002) and The Taylor Competitive Reaction Time Test (TCRTT). Results from this study could be beneficial to mental health professionals and individuals of these ages in understanding why they have a slower or faster reaction time than others.


Background of the Study

When an individual goes through a breakup from a relationship, this can cause many different negative experiences to happen. Whenever there is an increase of stress coming from an event, there is an increased risk for developing depression (Verhallen et al., 2019). Conducting research studies on stressful and emotional upsetting events can provide for great insight as to why there are individual differences when talking about stress-related coping and the link for stress and depression. Previous research has shown that the breakup from a romantic relationship can have such a strong emotional upsetting there can be multiple symptoms that are related to sadness, grief, and depression (Verhallen et al., 2019). There can even be a result of having an increased risk of developing a depressive episode (Verhallen et al., 2019). Women have reported for a higher distress score compared to men in the study. In the study (Stoessel et al., 2011) the participants with a relationships breakup in the following six months and experiencing sadness ended over the breakup ended up having the same symptoms of being clinically depression. For women after the break up after four months, they reported high levels of complicated grief (Verhallen et al., 2019). There was also a different brain pattern that was an increased activity in posterior regions such as the cerebellum and decreased in activity in the anterior regions. This was found in these women when they were ruminating about their breakup and the ex-individual in comparison with thinking about an acquaintance. The study by Verhallen et al. (2019) was conducted to examine if the breakup from a romantic relationship could be used as an experimental method for studying a depression-like state. The results from this study indicated that the effects of experiencing a relationship breakup can be captured with two descriptors: “sudden loss” and “lack of positive affect”. The sudden loss and lack of positive affect are both associated with severity of depression and the symptoms. The researchers proposed that this life-event is a viable experimental model that can help with investigating symptoms of depression in individuals who have not been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder.



Although previous studies have found that the working memory becomes altered after a romantic relationship break up, no study to date has examined an individual’s reaction time after a romantic relationship breakup. According to Verhallen et al. (2021), acute stress and even chronic stress has the ability to impair an individual’s effect on working memory in healthy individuals. Chronic stress and dysregulation of stress response can be a leading factor for mood disorders, including depression (Bale, 2006). Resulting from Rose and Ebmeier (2006), depressed participants showed a reduced performance on their working memory task than the healthy control group did. The results from the study by Verhallen et al. (2021) concluded that there is less precuneus activation and identified a working memory-related brain network within their heartbreak population that relates to depressive symptom severity. The results from this study suggest that there is a relationship between depression from heartbreak and cognitive functioning. According to Schoofs et al. (2008), there has been a slower reaction time and lower accuracy rates due to social stress in male subjects. There has not been research conduction on the cognitive development in terms of reaction time during depression that resulted from a heartbreak and that is what this study will be focusing on.


Research Questions and Hypotheses

This study’s primary purpose is to explore if depression from heartbreak impacts an individual’s reaction time. The primary research question and hypothesis which guides this study are:

Research Questions

RQ. Is there a relationship between depression (from heartbreak) and reaction time in 14-24-year-olds?


H0: There is not a statistically significant relationship between depression (from heartbreak) and reaction time in 14-24-year-old’s.

Ha: There is a statistically significant relationship between depression (from heartbreak) and reaction time in 14-24-year old’s.

Nature of the Study

This quantitative correlational study is aimed at identifying the relationship between depression (from heartbreak) and reaction time in 14-24-year old’s. The Beck Depression Inventory Scale (Streiner, 2002) and The Taylor Competitive Reaction Time Test (TCRTT) will be conducted by using an online format to evaluate the relationship of depression and heartbreak.


Significance of the Study

Having an understanding on how depression from a heartbreak can affect an individual’s reaction time in individuals 14-24 years of age is crucial for developing preventions, interventions, and services to help decrease their chances of cognitive impairment. This study can provide information that can help individuals with their mental health, provide coping skills for depression, and give a better understanding as to why individuals may be struggling with their reaction times. This can also give mental health professionals the knowledge to prepare interventions and have more of an understanding of cognitive development for depressed individuals from having their heart broken. The intention of this study is to add to the literature already available about the effects of depression from heart break. This study will allow individuals to participate in treatment’s since they now are aware.





The participants that will be included in this study are high school and college students who range from the ages of 14-24 years old in the United States. This can include any state, ethnic background, and gender. This will create for a diverse group of subjects to participate. The participants will be equally both female and male. The participants will be required to speak and read English at an understandable level. The total number of participants that this study will aim to gain is N=200.

Keiser University Institutional Review Board will need to give approve for this study before recruiting subjects to participate in the study. This study will gain participants by posting the questionnaires online for subjects to participate if they qualify as a subject. The study will be posted on social media cites, such as; survey monkey, Facebook, Twitter, Group chats, etc. This will get the study more diversity among states and different groups of individuals rather than going into a school classroom to gain participants. Since the questionnaires are online this will be possible to succeed at.

According to Bosnjak and Tuten (2003), prepaid incentives in web surveys have shown that prize draws increase the completion rate of online surveys and they reduce the possibility of an incomplete survey participation. To increase the chance of the subjects participating in the study, the participants will be entered to into a prize draw.




The Beck Depression Scale

The Beck Depression Inventory Scale is a 21-item questionnaire scale that was the first formal attempt at using self-ratings to assess the severity of depression (LeBlanc et al., 2002). This can be used in normal and psychiatric populations (Jackson-Koku, 2016). The questionnaire was developed from clinical observations of attitudes and symptoms that were occurring frequently in depressed psychiatric patient and infrequently in non-depressed psychiatric patients. The Beck Depression Scale has 21 items that are on a 4-point scale from 0 (no symptoms) to 3 (severe symptoms). The minimum score is zero while the maximums core is 62. The higher the scoring means the higher severity of depression. When the score is 0-13 this indicates that there is minimal depression, 14-19 (mild), 20-28 (moderate), and 29-63 (severe depression). The content validity of this has improved with item replacements and rewording of the DSM-IV to reflect the criteria needed for major depressive disorders. Construct validity is high for medical symptoms that are measured by the questionnaire. There has also been high concurrent validity demonstrated between the questionnaire and other measures of depression. For criterion validity the instruments are positively correlated with the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale with having a high one week test-retest reliability.


The Taylor Competitive Reaction Time Test

The Taylor Competitive Reaction Time Test (TCRTT) was modified to use noise blasts instead of using electric shocks, which is how it was first designed (Ferguson & Rueda, 2009). The noise blasts are easily adaptable to a computer-driven format and is more ethical. These noise blasts do not cause the participant any physical harm to their ears/body. During this test, participants are playing a reaction time game against an “alleged” human opponent, who does not really exist. The noise blasts would happen if the participant losses the game. The variation of the noise bust can be administrated through a PC or Mac computer, which would require no additional machinery. The noise blast can be determined in regards to how intense and the duration of them by the computer. Reaction time can be measured by this instrument by how fast the participants react to the noise burst. This could look like a flinch, blinking, or any sort of movement/vocalization.


The data collected for this study was all collected online from the instruments that were used. The results from The Beck Depression Test and The Taylor Competitive Reaction Time Test (TCRTT) were all inserted into the SurveyMonkey website. The subjects of this study would then be giving access to the survey by sending out a link on different social media platforms. This link would bring participants to the instructions of the survey.

When the survey link opens, it will lead to information about the study, what will happen during the study, and the purpose of the study. It will not actually give the goal of the study to the participants, just everything that they need to know to sign consent forms. The participants will be given a section of on the link to sign consent forms, these will include that their information will be kept confidential and if the participants choose to not participant then they do not have to. The purpose of not telling the participants the entire reason and goal for the study is so that they will not tell other participants. If other participants are told then they can alter results if the participants know what the researchers are looking for. When participants agree to the study and meet criteria they then will be brought to the survey questions. For the participants that did not agree or did not meet criteria will then leave the study. At this point the remaining participants will taking The Beck Depression test and The Taylor Competitive Reaction Time Test (TCRTT) would combined time should be about 30 minutes for competition of the study for participants.



This study’s primary purpose is to explore if depression from heartbreak impacts an individual’s reaction time. The primary research question and hypothesis which guides this study are:

Research Questions

RQ. Is there a relationship between depression (from heartbreak) and reaction time in 14-24-year-olds?


H0: There is not a statistically significant relationship between depression (from heartbreak) and reaction time in 14-24-year-old’s.

Ha: There is a statistically significant relationship between depression (from heartbreak) and reaction time in 14-24-year old’s.

The hypothesis of this study is predicting that there will be a reaction time between depression from heartbreak and reaction time. It is predicted that the more depression resulting from heartbreak then there will be a slower reaction time for those individuals. Individuals who are not experiencing depression or not as severe depression will have a faster reaction time. Due to there being a range of depression scores, continuous data will be collected. According to Verhallen et al. (2021) a relational breakup can be a severely stressful event for individuals that can lead to depressive symptoms in healthy people. It was found that for the heartbreak group, there is a negative association with depressive symptom severity and brain networking presenting mostly the precuneus, anterior cingulate gyrus and supplementary motor cortex (Verhallen et al., 2021). This study suggest that the breakup effect is accompanied by workload-dependent working memory alterations. The findings from this study creates for an expected effect from depression on an individual’s reaction time.

The Pearson’s Correlation statistical test will be used to compare the relationships between depression from heartbreak and reaction time. There will be a preliminary analysis ran to make sure that the data met the required criteria. It is predicted that there will be a significant, positive correlation between depression from heartbreak and reaction time for individuals. Figure 1 represents the hypothetical results of a Pearson’s r correlation between depression and reaction time.

Figure 1. Relationship between depression and reaction time.


Depression from romantic relationships that results from heartbreak can create very stressful events. This chronic depression can create for many life altering physical effects on the body. This literature review focused on the effects of reaction time for participants. This study took the time to make sure that the measures and procedures were all conducted in an ethical manner and was approved by the Keiser Institute Review Board. The participants were made aware of the instructions, age requirements, and what instruments were being used before they participated in the study. The participants were made aware that if they did not want to participate at any time during the study, that they were free to leave without any harm done. The instruments were all conducted in English for primary English speakers. Due to the potential of The Beck Depression Inventory Test bring up past trauma or depressive/sensitive subjects, the participants were given a number to call for free counseling if they needed it.

This study will certainly give informational results about depression and reaction time, but there will also be limitations of this study. The first limitation of this study is that there are no prior mental health disorders being tested. There could be other factors playing into the participants depression other than heartbreak that they are not disclosing. This would affect the study with not knowing if the depression results are purely from a relationship break up. Future research needs to be conducted on participants that are measured for other mental health disorders to make sure that they do not have any.

Another limitation of this study is that this study is a correlational design, having a causal relationship between depression and reaction time will not be determined. Future research should focus this study on an experimental design to create for more definite results.

The third limitation of this study is that gender was not looked at during. There was not a comparison in the different genders when the results were determined. Having more research on this topic and comparing genders will help with the results of this study.





Bale, T. L. (2006). Stress sensitivity and the development of affective disorders.  Horm. Behav. 50, 529–533. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2006.06.033

Bosnjak, M., & Tuten, T. L. (2003). Prepaid and promised incentives in web surveys: An experiment.  Social science computer review,  21(2), 208-217.

Ferguson, C. J., & Rueda, S. M. (2009). Examining the validity of the modified Taylor competitive reaction time test of aggression.  Journal of Experimental Criminology,  5(2), 121-137.

Fischer, A. H. & Manstead, A. S. R. (2016). Social Functions of Emotion and Emotion Regulation. In L. Feldman Barrett, M. Lewis, & J. M. Haviland-Jones (Eds.),  Handbook of Emotions, 4th Ed.  (pp. 424-439). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Izzati, S., & Takwin, B. (2018, July). The Effects of Written Emotional Disclosure to Subjective Distress and Mood on Individuals Experiencing Heartbreak. In  Universitas Indonesia International Psychology Symposium for Undergraduate Research (UIPSUR 2017) (pp. 217-223). Atlantis Press.

Jackson-Koku, G. (2016). Beck depression inventory.  Occupational Medicine,  66(2), 174-175.

LeBlanc, J. C., Almudevar, A., Brooks, S. J., & Kutcher, S. (2002). Screening for adolescent depression: comparison of the Kutcher Adolescent Depression Scale with the Beck Depression Inventory.  Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology,  12(2), 113-126.

Rose, E. J., and Ebmeier, K. P. (2006). Pattern of impaired working memory during major depression.  J. Affect. Disord. 90, 149–161. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2005.11.003

Schoofs, D., Preuß, D., and Wolf, O. T. (2008). Psychosocial stress induces working memory impairments in an N-back paradigm.  Psychoneuroendocrinology 33, 643–653. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2008.02.004

Streiner, D. L. (2002). Breaking up is hard to do: the heartbreak of dichotomizing continuous data.  The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry,  47(3), 262-266. Stoessel C, Stiller J, Bleich S, Boensch D, Doerfler A, Garcia M, et al. Differences and similarities on neuronal activities of people being happily and unhappily in love: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Neuropsychobiology. 2011;64: 52–60. pmid:21606659

Stoessel, C., Stiller, J., Bleich, S., Boensch, D., Doerfler, A., Garcia, M., … & Forster, C. (2011). Differences and similarities on neuronal activities of people being happily and unhappily in love: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study.  Neuropsychobiology,  64(1), 52-60.

Verhallen, A. M., Alonso‐Martínez, S., Renken, R. J., Marsman, J. B. C., & Ter Horst, G. J. (2021). Depressive symptom trajectory following romantic relationship breakup and effects of rumination, neuroticism and cognitive control.  Stress and Health.

Verhallen, A. M., Renken, R. J., Marsman, J. B. C., & Ter Horst, G. J. (2019). Romantic relationship breakup: An experimental model to study effects of stress on depression (-like) symptoms.  PloS one,  14(5), e0217320.

Verhallen, A. M., Renken, R. J., Marsman, J. B. C., & Ter Horst, G. J. (2021). Working memory alterations after a romantic relationship breakup.  Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience,  15, 657264.

Continuous Variables for Correlation

Y 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 80 70 60 50 40 30 20

Reaction Time




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