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New Study Undermines Theory That Depressed People Are Simply More Realistic – Neuroscience News

Summary: “Depressive realism,” a theory touted since the late 1970s, claims that people with depression are more realistic in how they judge the control they have over their lives. A new study indicates that the evidence is not there to support this old theory.

Source: UC Berkeley

Are depressed people simply more realistic when judging how much control they have over their lives, while others view the world through rosy lenses, living under the illusion that they have more control than they do? don’t have any?

This is the general idea behind Depressive Realism, a theory that has dominated science and popular culture for more than four decades.

The problem is, that’s just not true, according to new research.

It’s an idea that has enough traction that many people seem to believe it, but the evidence just isn’t there to support it, says Professor Don Moore, Lorraine Tyson Mitchell Chair in Leadership and Communication. at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and co-author of the study in the journal Collaboration: Psychology. The good news is that you don’t have to be depressed to realize how much control you have.

Depressive realism

The concept of depressive realism stems from a 1979 study of college students examining whether they could predict how much control they had over whether a traffic light turned green when they pressed a button.

The original research concluded that depressed students were better at identifying when they had no control over lights, while those who were not depressed tended to overestimate their level of control.

Moore and his colleagues set out to try to replicate these findings as part of a larger effort to rebuild trust in scientific research, much of which is woven into the fabric of the scientific community and culture in the world. wider. Researchers revisit basic studies to underpin the most basic scientific principles: Can the research and its findings be replicated?

Why test the theory of depressive realism in particular? Its decades-long infusion into science, culture and even potential mental health treatment policy makes it important, Moore says. The original study, for example, has been cited more than 2,000 times in subsequent studies or searches, according to Google Scholar.

At the top of the list of reasons we should revisit this particular paper is its widespread acceptance in scholarly and popular literature, says Moore, who studies overconfidence, trust and decision-making. This means that many people develop theories or policies based on the reality of this effect. If not, it is really important to establish it.

Reproduction of the original study

Moore co-authored the study with University of California, Berkeley psychology professor Sheri Johnson and former undergraduate researcher Karin Garrett, BA 21, as well as University of Miami doctoral student, Amelia Dev, BA 17.

The authors studied two groups of participants, whom they screened for depression via a questionnaire. The first group of 248 participants came from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an online service that provides paid surveyors and study participants from a variety of backgrounds, in this case all over the age of 18. The second group consisted of 134 college students who participated in exchange for college credits.

The researchers added or used more modern and robust measurements for the study. For example, they added a mechanism to measure bias and experimentally varied the amount of control participants actually had.

Participants performed a task similar to that of the 1979 study. In 40 rounds, each chose to press a button, after which a light bulb or black box appeared. Everyone was told to determine if pressing (or not pressing) the button had any impact on turning on the light. After the rounds, everyone reported how much control they had over the light.

The good news is that you don’t have to be depressed to realize how much control you have. Image is in public domain

Online groups and student groups were divided into three experimental conditions. Each condition experienced different button-light relationships over the 40 rounds.

Participants in the first two conditions had no real control over the appearance of the light, but saw it turn on a quarter or three quarters of the time, respectively. Participants in the third condition had some control, seeing the light three-quarters of the time after pressing the button.

The researchers were unable to replicate the results of the original study. In fact, people in the online group with higher levels of depression overestimated their control, a direct contradiction to the original study. This finding may be driven by anxiety rather than depression, the researchers note, an observation that Moore says deserves further study.

In the group of college students, levels of depression had little impact on their view of their control, the authors found.

The researchers also tested for overconfidence. Study participants were asked to estimate their scores on an intelligence test. The depression didn’t have an impact there either.

The results undermine the theory

The results, Moore says, undermined his belief in depressive realism.

The study doesn’t suggest there are benefits to being depressed, so no one should seek out depression as a cure for their cognitive biases, Moore says.

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Imagine, for example, a manager who hires someone who is depressed because they believe, based on the original study, that the person is less likely to be overconfident and will have better judgment. That would be a mistake, Moore said.

While depression may not improve judgment, the question of how to accurately assess our level of control in various situations has broader implications across the lifespan, Moore says.

We live with great uncertainty about how much control we have over our careers, our health, our body weight, our friendships, or our happiness, Moore says. What actions can we take that really matter? If we want to make good choices in life, it is very useful to know what we control and what we do not control.

About this depression research

Author: Press office
Source: UC Berkeley
Contact: Press Office – UC Berkeley
Image: Image is in public domain

Original research: Access closed.
“Sadder ≠ wiser: Depressive realism is not robust to replication” by Amelia Shepley Dev et al. Collaboration: Psychology


Sadder ≠ wiser: depressive realism is not resistant to replication

Depressive realism theory argues that people who are depressed are less prone to an optimistic bias and therefore are more realistic in evaluating their control or performance.

Since the theory was proposed 40 years ago, many innovations have been validated for testing cognitive accuracy, including improved measures of bias in perceived control and performance.

We incorporate many of these innovations into a high-powered, pre-recorded study designed to identify depressive realism. Amazon MTurk workers (N=246) and undergraduate students (N=134) performed a classic urgency task, an overconfidence task, and measures of mental health concepts, including depression and anxiety.

We measured perceived control throughout the contingency task, which allowed us to compare estimates of control at the trial level to estimates assessed at the end of the task. We found no evidence that depressive symptoms are related to delusional control or overconfidence.

Our results suggest that despite its popular acceptance, depressive realism is not reproducible.

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