New Perspective on Depression

Clinical depression may enable better focus

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Being blue is no fun. Anyone will tell you that. But new research says people with major depression may actually have superior reasoning skills.

Researchers showed that depressed individuals perform better than people who are not depressed, when it comes to making sequential decisions - that is, prioritizing and following through on a number of decisions.

"Depression may help complex decision-making skills."

The study involved participants playing a video game in which they could earn money by hiring an applicant in a simulated job search. The game gave each applicant a monetary value and presented applicants one-at-a-time in random order. Participants had to figure out when to halt the search and select the current applicant.

In addition to resembling everyday decision problems, such as house shopping and dating, the task had a best strategy involved. Depressed patients calculated this optimal strategy better than non-depressed participants did.

While healthy participants searched through relatively few candidates before selecting an applicant, depressed participants searched more thoroughly and made choices that resulted in higher payoffs.

This research study provides the first evidence that clinical depression may have some beneficial aspects.

For decades, psychologists have debated whether depression has positive side-effects. While researchers have recognized that most symptoms of depression interfere with cognitive functioning, some scholars have proposed that depression may improve analytical reasoning and persistence - qualities that are useful in complex tasks.

Fully understanding the consequences of depression may help uncover how it develops and better ways to treat it. 

Joseph V. Madia, MD, medical editor of dailyrx added, "I think this is an interesting study that adds great insight into how the depressed brain works, but until the biology behind these findings is elucidated, I would encourage anyone who is feeling depressed to seek treatment. The negative consequences of untreated depression are much more risky than the positive benefits of improved decision making skills".

The study was a collaborative effort of researchers at Clarkson University, Stanford University, the University of Basel, Switzerland, Technische Universität München, Germany and Charité Hospital Berlin, Germany.

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Review Date: 
May 5, 2011
Last Updated:
May 10, 2011