People who are depressed have difficulty appreciating or recalling positive experiences, research finds.
Compared with non-depressed people, those who feel depressed find it harder to remember positives.
For example, a depressed person starting an exercise programme might notice their new aches and pains, but not the weight they are losing.
Depressed people need to make a special effort to see the positives, whereas non-depressed people tend to notice them automatically.
Dr Laren Conklin, the study’s first author, said:
“Since depression is characterized by negative thinking, it is easy to assume that depressed people learn the negative lessons of life better than non-depressed people – but that’s not true.”
In fact, when tested, non-depressed people were just as good as the depressed at learning negative information.
The study involved depressed and non-depressed people playing a computer game that encouraged them to learn positive and negative information.
It linked clinical depression to how people form attitudes to new information.
The non-depressed could learn both positive and negative information, but not so the depressed, explained Dr Daniel Strunk, study co-author:
“The depressed people showed a bias against learning positive information although they had no trouble learning the negative.”
The more depressed people were, the harder they found it to recall the positive information.
Dr Conklin said:
“Depressed people may have a tendency to remember the negative experiences in a situation, but not remember the good things that happened.
Therapists need to be aware of that.
Dr Strunk said:
“Therapists might focus more on helping their depressed clients recognize and remember the positive aspects of their new experiences.”
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
The study was published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry (Conklin et al., 2008).