- New research challenges depressive realism: a theory that suggests depressed people are less susceptible to the optimistic bias.
- Research from 1979 suggests that people with depression are more realistic when judging how much control they have in their lives, but the results cannot be replicated in a recent study.
- Medical treatment, along with talk therapy and spending time with loved ones, can relieve symptoms of mild depression.
If you are depressed, you may have been told at one time or another that looking on the bright side of life can improve your condition.
Perhaps those close to you have accused you of underestimating your abilities or insisted that you can overcome depression if you embrace a little optimism.
As frustrating as these observations may be, these well-meaning people may have been operating on the long-held assumption that depressed people are more realistic. This idea stems from a theory known as depressive realism.
The theory suggests that depressed people are less susceptible to the optimistic bias and are simply more realistic in judging how much control they have over their lives.
This idea comes from Study 1979 She examined whether a group of college students could predict how well they controlled whether a light turned green when a button was pressed.
The research found that depressed students were better at recognizing times when they weren’t in control, while students who weren’t depressed were more likely to overestimate their control over the spotlight.
Since 1979, these findings have seeped into popular culture and fields of scientific study. but, new search He refutes these findings and suggests that the results of the original study cannot be replicated.
In the new study, participants were prescreened for depression. They were divided into two groups – an online group and a college student group – and asked to complete a task similar to the one used in 1979.
This time, the researchers added a mechanism to measure bias and changed the level of adjustment the participants actually had.
The recent study did not match the results of the original version. Instead, participants with a higher level of depression in the online group overestimated their control.
Meanwhile, the undergraduate group showed that levels of depression had little effect on their view of their control.
What does this mean for how we view depression and its treatment in the future?
“The original research article has since been cited more than 2,000 times as a meaningful hypothesis. A study conducted four decades later to disprove its reproducibility puts a key in action,” says psychotherapist Tanya Taylor.
“In my personal opinion, the original study was indeed flawed, and there shouldn’t be much burden to consider real-life depressed people when the study itself was not applicable to real-life scenarios,” she points out.
When it comes to mental health issues, making general assumptions can be both harmful and limiting. A person with depression may feel restricted by the idea that their mental health is simply a result of their mentality.
They may also find it frustrating and stressful to hold back unhelpful and inaccurate remarks about their perception of others.
Taylor agrees that depressive realism theory can be harmful. Taylor notes that “Cognitive theories of depression include how a person’s perception of their environment and experiences is distorted.”
“Saying categorically that this altered perception is healthier can have serious consequences for a person’s ability to recover from a depressive state and build any kind of therapeutic alliance with a therapist,” she says.
For some, depressive realism can reinforce the stigma surrounding mental health. This may indicate that the depressed person is somewhat at fault or responsible for his condition. Or solidify the idea that they can overcome it through the power of positive thinking.
“Low mood and depression weren’t talked about, so how could you be expected to talk about that?” Says Sylvia Tillmanexpert in tension and shock exercises.
She said such notions can be debilitating if you feel you are unable to help yourself.
Taylor believes that it is a positive step forward that the term depressive realism is changing.
“Although I would imagine that people who believe in depressive realism over cognitive theory will still need more research before they are fully convinced,” she adds.
It is impossible to gauge how people with depression will view these new findings. For some, the assumption that their outlook on life influences their mental health may have helped them understand their illness for many years.
For others, it may be a relief to no longer feel trapped in such perceptions.
However you feel about the results of this new research, if you live with mild depression, you are probably eager to learn how to deal with it.
Besides medical intervention, it is often assumed that the best way to control depression is mental health. However, Tillman says working with the body is a great place to start.
She suggests dancing, yoga, breathing, or tension and shock exercises (TRE).
“These activities can release any trauma that is trapped in the body,” she explains. “The nervous system is calmed, and they can help with relaxation as well. They also reconnect us with our body, which can be beneficial for people with depression, as many describe the feeling of numbness.”
When you’re not feeling at your best, getting out of the house can seem like a daunting task, but it can make all the difference. Taylor advises looking for blue spaces.
“The blue spaces include the water. Whether it’s a stream or stream, a tumultuous river, a still or placid lake, or the rush of ocean waves as they hit the shore. Water is known to improve our mood.”
Going out to see friends and family can also help.
Taylor notes that “research consistently shows that if we spend time with people we enjoy their company, we report an improvement in our mood.”
“If going out into the world is too intimidating, try some of the easier first steps, like chatting with a friend over the phone or via text,” she advises.
Above all, Taylor says seeking professional support is key.
“Speech therapy can go a long way in helping you move away from a depressive state and find out what works for you. It can help you learn about your triggers and what you can do to help yourself in the future,” she explains.
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