Depressive Symptoms May Persist Even if Your Glass is Half Full

Looking at certain life situations with a positive perspective may not prevent depressive symptoms, according to a new study. Erin M. O’Mara of the Department of Psychology at the University of Tennessee recently led a study to discover how appraisal bias affects depressive symptoms. “Whereas some people are resilient and maintain good mental health even in the face of significant problems and stress, others find the same experiences leading to depression and other symptoms of poor mental health,” said O’Mara and her colleagues. “Numerous theorists, social psychologists in particular, have argued that mental health is more resilient for people who tend to make positively biased appraisals of their experiences—that is, interpret their experiences more positively than an objective observer would interpret those same experiences.”

The team of researchers conducted two separate studies to gauge precisely how bias influenced the onset and persistence of depressive symptoms. Eighty-two newlywed couples were enlisted for the first study. Each couple was married less than six months and none had children. Using the Beck Depression Inventory and the Quality Marriage Index, the researchers assessed the couples twice each year for four years. They found that individuals who viewed stressful situations positively experienced less depressive symptoms over the four years, but only if the stressful situations were minor. Those who faced severely negative circumstances with a positive attitude saw no increase, but no decrease, in depressive symptoms. In the second study, the team assessed 169 couples and evaluated them only at the beginning and again two years later. The results revealed that the positive outlook actually caused the participants to anticipate stress. They team said, “That is, the tendency to hold positively biased appraisals of stressful experiences in the context of more severe stressful experiences was associated with more depressive symptoms over time because it predicted worse experiences.” In conclusion, the team added, “These findings suggest that cognitive biases are not inherently positive or negative; their implications for mental health depend on the context in which they occur.”

O’Mara, Erin M., James K. McNulty, and Benjamin R. Karney. “Positively Biased Appraisals in Everyday Life: When Do They Benefit Mental Health and When Do They Harm It?”Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 101.3 (2011): 415-32. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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.

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  • A.Philips


    September 13th, 2011 at 11:26 PM

    Whoa,this goes against everything that we have heard all the time!

    But well, it is true that its tougher to handle bigger problems than smaller ones.So our positive outlook may just not be enough when up against big problems.

    But that makes me feel like we’re nowhere in control!

  • Sandi


    September 14th, 2011 at 4:17 AM

    No matter who you are and your overall outlook on life there are bound to be times where we all feel depressed. And this may last for a day or for a week or for maybe even longer. But I do think that the more positive you are overall then the better your chances are that you will be able to bounce back more quickly and in a healthier manner. It might take a little time, and no one really can do it alone, but there is the chance that this will happen. For those who are more negative it is bound to take them longer to get to a sunnier point in their lives, as they are not only fighting this one depressive episode but also a general tendency to be this way.

  • Ariail


    September 14th, 2011 at 12:55 PM

    Kind of sad that for years and years we have all heard that the power of positive thinking really can influenec your life and in a good way. Guess that the proponents of that philosophy were a little off base. But I kind of take that back because I know that on days when I feel strong and teel myself to keep believeing that then I DO feel better. I can’t go around thinking that I do not have nay control on the way that I view ,life. That is a little too much like giving up if you ask me and that is not the way that I choose to live my life.

  • BB-Queue


    September 14th, 2011 at 3:55 PM

    I’ve always followed the old adage of being resilient and positive in times of trouble and it has helped me in my opinion.Never had the chance to test it out with a major issue,but I hope that chance never comes ;)

  • RJ


    September 14th, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    This my friends is a game changer. No longer can we use the “think positive” modo and everything in your live will be dandy and great! No, apparently that isn’t going to cut it. Ariail is right, it IS sad, really sad. That’s not to say that positive thinking can’t influence your life for the better, it just means it might not do it as well as we thought.

    You should STILL think positive thoughts.
    And you should STILL try to limit negative thoughts.

    If you read the article it says that only people who thought positively on very stressful incidences are more likely to become depressed. This means that these people are admitting that these instances were stressful for them. The easy solution to this would be to not allow the situation to stress you out.

  • Mel Hanson

    Mel Hanson

    September 14th, 2011 at 6:47 PM

    You think? Depression doesn’t simply go away once things get better. It’s not the leak in the ceiling. It’s the puddle on the floor. That puddle is going to keep ruining your morning until you clean it up after fixing the leak in the ceiling.

  • Jack Collins

    Jack Collins

    September 18th, 2011 at 3:55 PM

    How can you view a stressful situation positively? I don’t get it. I don’t look at my debts, smile, and say “This is a brilliant time to get myself a brand new job!” and end up taking over a big corporation and becoming a millionaire. The only way to handle those kinds of situations is by taking control of yourself, and if you can, the situation. Realistically!

  • Elsie J.

    Elsie J.

    September 18th, 2011 at 5:45 PM

    If I could have any positive perspective on my car breaking down I would be the happiest person in the world because it breaks down all the time and I can’t afford a new one. Unfortunately that technique doesn’t work for me.

    Do you know how much every mechanic in this state tries to rip me off on repair bills because I’m a woman? I couldn’t see positives in that if I tried! For those that can, you’re lucky!

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on