Clinically depressed people can find it hard to tell the difference between their own negative emotions, like anger, guilt and frustration.
This could be part of the reason that depression is so hard to deal with.
It may be helpful for people experiencing depression to be more specific about which negative emotion they are feeling, the research also suggests.
→ Try PsyBlog’s depression ebook: Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study’s first author, Dr. Emre Demiralp, explains:
“It is difficult to improve your life without knowing whether you are sad or angry about some aspect of it.
For example, imagine not having a gauge independently indicating the gasoline level of your car.
It would be challenging to know when to stop for gas.
We wanted to investigate whether people with clinical depression had emotional gauges that were informative and whether they experienced emotions with the same level of specificity and differentiation as healthy people.”
Participants in the study — half of whom were experiencing clinical depression — were asked to report their emotions at random intervals over a period of a week.
Each time they reported how they felt across 11 different emotions, 7 negative and 4 positive:
- and active.
The results, published in the journal Psychological Science, showed that people who were depressed found it difficult to distinguish between negative emotions (Demiralp et al., 2012).
In contrast, non-depressed people were clearer which negative emotions they were experiencing.
For the positive emotions, however, both the depressed and non-depressed participants could distinguish them equally well.
Dr. Demiralp said:
“Our results suggest that being specific about your negative emotions might be good for you.
It might be best to avoid thinking that you are feeling generally bad or unpleasant.
Is it anger, shame, guilt or some other emotion?
This can help you circumvent it and improve your life.
It is one of our overarching goals to investigate approaches for facilitating this kind of emotional intelligence at a large scale in the population.”
→ Try one of PsyBlog’s ebooks, all written by Dr Jeremy Dean:
Image credit: kygp