Depressive realism is the hypothesis developed by Lauren Alloy and Lyn Yvonne Abramson that depressed individuals make more realistic inferences than non-depressed individuals. Although depressed individuals are thought to have a negative cognitive bias that results in recurrent, negative automatic thoughts, maladaptive behaviors, and dysfunctional world beliefs, depressive realism argues not only that this negativity may reflect a more accurate appraisal of the world but also that non-depressed individuals' appraisals are positively biased. This theory remains very controversial, as it brings into question the theory underlying cognitive behavioral therapy, which posits that the depressed individual is negatively biased in their perceptions, with the goal of returning them to a more objective state. While some of the evidence currently supports the plausibility of depressive realism, its effect may be restricted to a select few situations.
When participants were asked to press a button and rate the control they perceived they had over whether or not a light turned on, depressed individuals made more accurate ratings of control than non-depressed individuals. Among participants asked to complete a task and rate their performance without any feedback, depressed individuals made more accurate self-ratings than non-depressed individuals. For participants asked to complete a series of tasks, given feedback on their performance after each task, and who self-rated their overall performance after completing all the tasks, depressed individuals were again more likely to give an accurate self-rating than non-depressed individuals. When asked to evaluate their performance both immediately and some time after completing a task, depressed individuals made accurate appraisals both immediately before and after time had passed.
In a functional magnetic resonance imaging study of the brain, depressed patients were shown to be more accurate in their causal attributions of positive and negative social events than non-depressed participants who demonstrated a positive bias. This difference was also reflected in the differential activation of the fronto-temporal network, higher activation for non self-serving attributions in non-depressed participants and for self-serving attributions in depressed patients, and reduced coupling of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex seed region and the limbic areas when depressed patients made self-serving attributions.
When asked to rate both their performance and the performance of others, non-depressed individuals demonstrated positive bias when rating themselves but no bias when rating others. Depressed individuals conversely showed no bias when rating themselves but a positive bias when rating others.
When assessing participant thoughts in public versus private settings, the thoughts of non-depressed individuals were more optimistic in public than private, while depressed individuals were less optimistic in public.
When asked to rate their performance immediately after a task and after some time had passed, depressed individuals were more accurate when they rated themselves immediately after the task but were more negative after time had passed whereas non-depressed individuals were positive immediately after and some time after.
Although depressed individuals make accurate judgments about having no control in situations where they in fact have no control, this appraisal also carries over to situations where they do have control, suggesting that the depressed perspective is not more accurate overall.
When studied in real-world settings, depressed individuals are actually less accurate and more overconfident in their predictions about the future than their non-depressed peers. Participants' attributional accuracy may also be more related to their overall attributional style rather than the presence and severity of their depressive symptoms.
Criticism of the evidence
Some have argued that the evidence is not more conclusive because no standard for reality exists, the diagnoses are dubious, and the results may not apply to the real world. Because many studies rely on self-report of depressive symptoms and self-reports are known to be biased, the diagnosis of depression in these studies may not be valid, necessitating the use of other objective measures. Due to most of these studies using designs that do not necessarily approximate real-world phenomena, the external validity of the depressive realism hypothesis is unclear. There is also concern that the depressive realism effect is merely a byproduct of the depressed person being in a situation that agrees with their negative bias.
- Alloy, L.B.; Abramson, L.Y. (1988). Depressive realism: four theoretical perspectives.
- Beck, A.T. (1967). Depression: Clinical, experimental, and theoretical aspects. 32. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
- Beck, Aaron T., ed. (1979). Cognitive Therapy of Depression. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 9780898629194.
- Beck, A.T.; Brown, G.; Steer, R.A.; Eidelson, J.I.; Riskind, J.H. (1987). "Differentiating anxiety and depression: a test of the cognitive content-specificity hypothesis". Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 96 (3): 179–183. doi:10.1037/0021-843x.96.3.179.
- Michael Thomas Moore; David Fresco (2012). "Depressive Realism: A Meta-Analytic Review". Clinical Psychology Review. 32 (1): 496–509. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2012.05.004. PMID 22717337.
- Alloy, L.B.; Abramson, L.Y. (1979). "Judgment of contingency in depressed and nondepressed students: Sadder but wiser?". Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. 108: 441–485. doi:10.1037/0096-3422.214.171.1241.
- Alloy, L.B.; Abramson, L.Y.; Kossman, D.A. (1985), "The judgment of predictability in depressed and nondepressed college students", in Brush, F.R.; Overmeir, J.B., Affect, conditioning, and cognition: Essays on the determinants of behavior, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, pp. 229–246
- Alloy, L.B.; Abramson, L.Y.; Viscusi, D. (1981). "Induced mood and the illusion of control". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 41 (6): 1129–1140. doi:10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1999.
- Musson, R.F.; Alloy, L.B. (1989). "Depression, self-consciousness, and judgments of control: A test of the self-focused attention hypothesis". unpublished.
- Vasquez, C.V. (1987). "Judgment of contingency: Cognitive biases in depressed and nondepressed subjects". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 52: 419–431. doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.529.
- DeMonbreun, B.G.; Craighead, W.E. (1977). "Distortion of perception and recall of positive and neutral feedback in depression". Cognitive Therapy and Research. 1: 311–329. doi:10.1007/bf01663996.
- Dennard, D.O.; Hokanson, J.E. (1986). "Performance on two cognitive tasks by dysphoric and nondysphoric students". Cognitive Therapy and Research. 10: 377–386. doi:10.1007/bf01173473.
- Gotlib, I.H. (1983). "Perception and recall of interpersonal feedback: Negative bias in depression". Cognitive Therapy and Research. 7: 399–412. doi:10.1007/bf01187168.
- Lobitz, W.C.; Post, R.D. (1979). "Parameters of self-reinforcement and depression". Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 88: 33–41. doi:10.1037/0021-843x.88.1.33.
- Nelson, R.E.; Craighead, W.E. (1977). "Selective recall of positive and negative feedback, self-control behaviors and depression". Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 86: 379–388. doi:10.1037/0021-843x.86.4.379.
- Rozensky, R.H.; Rehm, L.P.; Pry, G.; Roth, D. (1977). "Depression and self-reinforcement behavior in hospitalized patients". Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. 8: 35–38. doi:10.1016/0005-7916(77)90102-1.
- Wenzlaff, R.M.; Berman, J. S. (August 1985), Judgmental accuracy in depression, The Meeting of the American Psychological Association, Los Angeles
- Seidel, Eva-Maria; Satterthwaite, Theodore D.; Eickhoff, Simon B.; Schneider, Frank; Gur, Ruben C.; Wolf, Daniel H.; Habel, Ute; Derntl, Birgit (2012). "Neural correlates of depressive realism — An fMRI study on causal attribution in depression". Journal of Affective Disorders. 138 (3): 268–276. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2012.01.041. PMC 3565123. PMID 22377511.
- Gotlib, I.H.; Meltzer, S.J. (1987). "Depression and the perception of social skill in dyadic interaction". Cognitive Therapy and Research. 11: 41–54. doi:10.1007/bf01183131.
- Javna, C.D. (1981), "Depressed and nondepressed college students' interpretations of and memory for feedback about self and others", Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
- Pyszczynski, T.; Holt, K.; Greenberg, J. (1987). "Depression, self-focused attention, and expectancies for positive and negative future life events for self and others". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 52: 994–1001. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2064.
- Benassi, V.A. & Mahler, H.I.M. (1985). "Contingency judgments by depressed college students: Sadder but not always wiser". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 49: 1323–1329. doi:10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.113.
- Sacco, W.P.; Hokanson, J.E. (1978). "Expectations of success and anagram performance of depressives in a public and private setting". Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 87: 122–130. doi:10.1037/0021-843x.87.1.122.
- Sacco, W. P. & Hokanson, J. E. (1982). "Depression and self-reinforcement in a public and private setting". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 42: 377–385. doi:10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1687.
- Strack, S.; Coyne, J.C. (1983). "Social confirmation of dysphoria: Shared and private reactions". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 44: 798–806. doi:10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1248.
- Dykman, B.M.; Abramson, L.Y.; Alloy, L.B.; Hartlage, S. (1989). "Processing of ambiguous and unambiguous feedback by depressed and nondepressed college students: Schematic biases and their implications for depressive realism". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 56 (3): 431–445. doi:10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1991. PMID 2926638.
- Dunning D, Story AL (1991). "Depression, realism, and the overconfidence effect: are the sadder wiser when predicting future actions and events?" (PDF). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 61 (4): 521–532. doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.521. PMID 1960645.
- Michael Thomas Moore; David Fresco (2007). "Depressive realism and attributional style: implications for individuals at risk for depression" (PDF). Behavior Therapy. 38 (2): 144–154. doi:10.1016/j.beth.2006.06.003. PMID 17499081.
- Langer, E.J. (1975). "The illusion of control". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 32: 311–328. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2061.
- Msetfi RM, Murphy RA, Simpson J, Kornbrot DE (2005). "Depressive realism and outcome density bias in contingency judgments: the effect of the context and intertrial interval" (PDF). Journal of Experimental Psychology. General. 134 (1): 10–22. doi:10.1037/0096-34220.127.116.11. PMID 15702960. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-29.
- Adelson, Rachel (April 2005). "Probing the puzzling workings of 'depressive realism'". APA Monitor. 36 (4): 30.
- Cummins, R.A.; Nistico, H. (2002). "Maintaining life satisfaction: The role of positive cognitive bias". Journal of Happiness Studies. 3: 37–69. doi:10.1023/A:1015678915305.
- Taylor, Shelley E.; Armor, David A. (December 1996). "Positive Illusions and Coping with Adversity". Journal of Personality. 64 (4): 873–898. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1996.tb00947.x. PMID 8956516.
- Hayden, Ben (2011). "Depressive Realism May Not Be Real". Psychology Today.