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Decision Style in Depression


American Psychological Association
Copyright © 1987 by American Psychological Association
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Decision Style in Depression


The present study investigated the contribution of cognitive and social factors to the decision style of depressed persons. During two sessions (Times 1 and 2), depressed and nondepressed college students were asked to imagine themselves making decisions about common life situations that afforded potential benefits but that also entailed potential risks. The decision scenarios varied in content; for example, some focused on decisions about establishing social contact and intimacy, whereas others focused on asserting one's rights or reporting a moral transgression. For each situation, subjects evaluated several potential risks and benefits and indicated what decisions they would make. In both sessions and for all types of decision scenarios, the depressed assigned greater weight to risks than did the nondepressed. Furthermore, for decisions about initiating social contact and establishing intimacy, the depressed expressed a greater reluctance to take the target action than did the nondepressed, and their perceptions of risks appeared to influence their estimated decisions more strongly. The Time 2 study also revealed that most of these differences applied equally when individuals were thinking about themselves or another person. However, risk perceptions were found to contribute more to the decision style of the depressed, relative to the nondepressed, only when their thoughts were focused on themselves and not when their thoughts were focused on another person. This work suggests that depressives' cognitive analysis of common life situations leads them to make decisions that promote their social isolation and, thereby, perpetuate their depression. Several theoretical explanations for the results are discussed.
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