People who are depressed can’t imagine what it’s like to not be depressed.
It is as though they have forgotten what it is like to be happy.
However, non-depressed people can imagine what it is like to be depressed — they seem to recall the state more clearly.
Ms Constance Imbault, the study’s first author, said:
“It’s not that people with depression aren’t capable of feeling like someone who’s not.
People don’t start out being depressed – it’s that they’ve lost the ability to feel emotion altogether.
The study involved placing faces representing people near some random words.
Some of the represented people were depressed, some not.
The findings backed up the idea that depressed people focus in on themselves to such an extent that they can’t imagine the emotions of others.
Ms Imbault said:
“People with depression tend to feel hopeless about their lives.
And if you can’t even envision what it might be like to not be depressed, it can be hard to find motivation to overcome depression.
You can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The findings may help the approximately 7% of people who experience depression each year.
Ms Imbault said:
“You can imagine treatments that involve teaching the ability to empathize, so that people with depression can see that there is hope, that they can imagine what it’s like to not be depressed.”
This study puts a unfamiliar spin on a familiar difficulty.
Often people who are depressed complain that other people don’t understand what they are going through.
But this study suggests that the reverse is true.
Depressed people find it hard to remember what it feels like to be happy.
It’s another way of saying that people who feel depressed have lost hope.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Ms Constance Imbault presented the findings at a recent meeting of the Psychonomic Society (Imbault & Kuperman, 2016).