Depression Causes an Abstract View on Goal Attainment

There are many symptoms associated with depression that occur on cognitive, emotional, and physical levels. One of the cognitive symptoms is the projection of events that have not yet occurred. And people with depression often tend to catastrophize and overgeneralize events that would be perceived as limited to others. For instance, when people with depression fail at tasks, they may overgeneralize their failures and associate that one incident with every other area of their life. This can lead to generalized feelings of low self-worth, self-hatred, guilt, and hopelessness.

In the same way, depressed people are more likely to generalize their outlook on the future when compared to nondepressed individuals. Because goal setting and goal attainment is an important part of depression recovery, it is essential to understand if goal attainment and methods of goal achievement are overgeneralized in depression and, if so, how does this affect depressive symptoms.

To this end, Joanne M. Dickson of the Institute of Psychology, Health, and Society at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom recently led a study comparing the goal perceptions of 21 individuals with depression to the goal perceptions of 24 participants with no history of depression. All of the participants listed avoidance and approach goals and then detailed why they could or could not reach their goals.

Dickson found that there was a significant difference in goal perception, but not in the number of goals. In particular, the participants with depression had similar numbers of avoidance and approach goals as nondepressed participants, but their explanations related to goal achievement were much more general. Additionally, those with depression had goals that were more generalized than the nondepressed participants’ goals. The participants who had depression demonstrated specificity only when they detailed reasons they could not achieve certain avoidance goals, which is not surprising considering the negative bias that is often present in depression.

Dickson believes that these findings provide insight into the role of goal specificity and how generalization of goals can impede motivation in individuals with depression. She added, “Importantly, the findings have the potential to inform the ongoing development of psychotherapeutic approaches in the treatment of depression.”

Dickson, J.M., Moberly, N.J. (2013). Reduced specificity of personal goals and explanations for goal attainment in major depression. PLoS ONE 8(5): e64512. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064512

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Donny


    June 13th, 2013 at 4:05 AM

    When depressed it’s almost as if you lose sight of the life ahead of you. You kind of know that it’s there, but you have so lost your way that it is hard to focus on the future, your goals for the future abd what you would need to do to attain them.

  • jaMes


    June 14th, 2013 at 4:09 AM

    Being depressed=being fuzzy=not caring much at all about anything

  • Ken Buch

    Ken Buch

    June 14th, 2013 at 9:26 AM

    Rollo May wrote: “depression is the inability to construct a future.” This is so very true. If I cannot construct a future then I cannot even begin to think about setting and achieving goals. This is also in agreement with the generality of the goals set by the depressed participants — the future is fuzzy, at best.

  • MO


    June 17th, 2013 at 4:23 AM

    When I was depressed, I could honestly look at all the things going on around me in life and with certainity I could have told you that I did not care any bit about any of it.

    Depression kind of takes away that ability to really care about too much. If you were like me there was just this numbness inside and honestly I was kind af afraid that I would never be able to totally feel anything again other than that numbness.

  • Charlie


    June 19th, 2013 at 8:48 PM

    When being depressed it’s like a anchor u have to be able to know when to bring it up and get a touch of reality

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.