Lack of motivation is a common symptom of depression. Particularly, depressed people find it very difficult to motivate themselves to set goals and even more difficult to muster up the energy or determination to pursue them. “It remains unclear whether depression is characterized by a general deficit in goal motivation, or by a profile of decreased approach motivation and increased avoidance motivation,” said Joanne M. Dickson of the University of Liverpool and lead author of a new study that examined goal approach and avoidance in people with symptoms of depression.
Dickson and her colleagues enlisted 49 individuals for their study and administered a goal task to them. The researchers asked the participants to list several goals that they would like to achieve in the future and several that they would like to avoid, ranking them in order of importance, listing the top two goals for each category separately. Next, they were instructed to write reasons why they would or would not achieve or avoid the two goals, and report how likely it was that they would or would not achieve them.
The researchers found that there was no significant difference in what type of goals the participants with depression listed compared with those without. However, they did discover that the motivation and likelihood of achieving the goals was quite different for each group. “Depressed participants judged their (desirable) approach goal outcomes as significantly less likely to occur than controls, and showed a marginally significant tendency to judge their (undesired) avoidance goal outcomes as more likely to occur than controls,” said the team. “Thus, depressed participants were more pessimistic than controls about the likelihood of achieving goals, particularly for desirable outcomes.” They added, “An implication of these findings is that therapeutic efforts should focus on challenging negative thinking relating to goal pursuit, rather than merely encouraging depressed people to identify possible goals.”
Dickson, J. M., Moberly, N. J., & Kinderman, P. (2011, May 9). Depressed People Are Not Less Motivated by Personal Goals But Are More Pessimistic About Attaining Them. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0023665
© 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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