As the world’s most frequently diagnosed mental disorder, depression is often associated with traits of sadness and apathy. However, for decades psychologists have debated whether depression provides any positive side-effects. Although most symptoms of depression appear to interfere with cognitive functioning, a new study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that depression may have a positive side-effect that promotes analytical reasoning and persistence—qualities helpful in complex tasks.
Researchers analyzed the performance of individuals in a complex sequential decision task who are non-depressed, depressed, and recovering from a major depressive episode.
Participants in the study played a computer game in which they could earn money by hiring an applicant in a simulated job search. Healthy participants evaluated few candidates before making a decision, while depressed participants appeared to come closer to the optimal strategy, searching more thoroughly and making decisions that resulted in higher payoffs.
Depressed individuals performed better than non-depressed individuals, suggesting that acutely depressed participants had higher thresholds for accepting options and made better choices than either healthy participants or those recovering from depression. A full understanding of the consequences and effects of depression may help reveal treatment options.