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 GoodTherapy.org.
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