Depression is often associated with negative thoughts and emotions, but a new study has suggested that the real trouble with depressed people is the failure to appreciate positive experiences.
Researchers at Ohio State University found that depressed and non-depressed people were about equal in their ability to learn negative information that was presented to them.
However, depressed people weren’t nearly as successful at learning positive information, as were their non-depressed counterparts.
“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,” said Laren Conklin, co-author of the study and a graduate student in psychology at Ohio State.
For the study, researchers tested 34 college students, 17 of whom met criteria for clinical depression and 17 of whom were not depressed.
Daniel Strunk, co-author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State, said that the key to conducting this study was the use of a computer game paradigm. The developers affectionately call the game “BeanFest.”
It involves people encountering images of beans on the computer screen. The beans could be good or bad, depending on their shape and the number of speckles they had.
One of measures researchers used in the study classified whether the depressed participants were currently undergoing a mild, moderate or severe episode of depression.
In the study, those undergoing a severe depressive episode did more poorly on correctly choosing positive beans than those with mild depression, further strengthening the results.
The study appears in the March issue of the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry.