The aim of the present study was to establish if patients with major depression (MD) exhibit a memory bias for sad faces, relative to happy and neutral, when the affective element of the faces is not explicitly processed at encoding. To this end, 16 psychiatric out-patients with MD and 18 healthy, never-depressed controls (HC) were presented with a series of emotional faces and were required to identify the gender of the individuals featured in the photographs. Participants were subsequently given a recognition memory test for these faces. At encoding, patients with MD exhibited a non-significant tendency towards slower gender identification (GI) times, relative to HC, for happy faces. However, the GI times of the two groups did not differ for sad or neutral faces. At memory testing, patients with MD did not exhibit the expected memory bias for sad faces. Similarly, HC did not demonstrate enhanced memory for happy faces. Overall, patients with MD were impaired in their memory for the faces relative to the HC. The current findings are consistent with the proposal that mood-congruent memory biases are contingent upon explicit processing of the emotional element of the to-be-remembered material at encoding.