Depression and dysphoria, which is a negative mood state that does not meet the clinical threshold of depression, impact social and interpersonal functioning. Research has shown that people with negative moods are less outgoing and receptive toward others. They exhibit withdrawal behaviors and tend to isolate themselves. Negative moods also cause people to view the world around them and everyone in it through a pessimistic lens. Past studies that have focused on how individuals with a history of depression or current depressed moods perceive the world around them have relied on actors to simulate personal interactions. Although these have provided some evidence into how negative affect influences perception, more realistic experiments are needed.
David S. Greenawalt of the Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans at the Texas A&M Health Science Center wanted to obtain more accurate evaluations. He recently led a study that required 104 participants to evaluate the outcome of dating scenarios. The participants had all been diagnosed with either past depression or current dysphoric states. They viewed recorded segments of first dates involving real people and were then asked whether they thought the people would want to continue dating. The results were compared with the real outcomes.
Contrary to many existing studies, Greenawalt found that the individuals with a history of depression were most accurate in their predictions, specifically with regard to negative outcomes. With respect to positive outcomes, the men with a history of depression were actually slightly more accurate in their predictions than the men with no past depressive symptoms. Greenawalt believes that men who have experienced depression in the past may be more sensitive to the negative responses of others in social situations. They may be more aware of body language and may have increased concern over rejection. All of these factors are common in depression, but this study shows that these conditions seem to persist in men. Greenawalt notes that depression may carry a bigger stigma for men because the insecurity, hopelessness, and sadness of depression contradict society’s image of the typical male.
In sum, the study revealed that negative predictions were more accurate in general, for men and women with a history of depressed mood, but not for those with current dysphoric symptoms. This warrants further exploration into negative social reactions in relation to depression persistence. Greenawalt added, “Going forward, it appears important to increase understanding of factors that may motivate greater accuracy in social perceptions, given that interpersonal functioning plays a central role in the recurrence and maintenance of depression.”
Greenawalt, D. S., Hayes, A. M. (2012). Is past depression or current dysphoria associated with social perception?Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology,31.4, 329-355.
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