People With Depression Tend To Seek Negative Feedback
*APA Press Release*
New Study Contributes to Understanding Why Depression
Is So Difficult For Some People To Shake Off
Someone who is "down in the dumps" or feeling
"blue" might welcome and be cheered by a kind word. Someone with
clinical depression, however, not only might not welcome such a
gesture, but might prefer to hear something negative. That's the
finding of a new study published in the August edition of the
American Psychological Association's (APA) Journal of Abnormal
Psychology which suggests that depressed people not only avoid
favorable feedback, they actively seek negative feedback.
The authors note that other studies have found that people
with depression tend to engage in behaviors that "create around
themselves the very environments that sustain their negative self-
views." Those behaviors, which tend to alienate people who might
otherwise try to help, include excessive self-disclosure, hostile
speech, negative self-evaluation, lack of responsiveness, reduced
eye contact, negative facial displays and slowed or monotonic
speech. With this study, the authors provide evidence suggesting
that people with depression sometimes enact these behaviors in
service of eliciting negative feedback.
For their study the authors recruited three groups of
participants: people who were clinically depressed (28), those who
were not depressed and had high self-esteem (20) and those who were
not depressed but who had low self-esteem (25). Each participant
was asked to complete a packet of questionnaires and was told that
their answers would be the basis for a personality assessment by
each of two graduate students. They were also asked to rank five
of their own attributes (such as intellectual ability and social
competence) in the order of how much they wanted to receive
feedback on each one.
Later, the participants were given what they thought were
summaries of the graduate students' assessments of them. But,
actually, everyone got the same two summaries, one of which was
positive ("this person seems well adjusted, self-confident, happy,
etc."); the other was negative ("this person seems unhappy,
unconfident, uncomfortable around others, etc."). They were then
asked to choose which of the full versions of the positive and
negative assessments they most wanted to read. They were also
asked to rate the accuracy of the two summaries.
Only 25 percent of the high self-esteem group chose the
unfavorable assessment over the favorable one. Sixty-four percent
of the low self-esteem group chose the negative assessment. In
contrast, 82 percent of the depressed participants chose the
unfavorable assessment over the favorable one. Of the three
groups, only the depressed participants rated the negative
assessment as more accurate (i.e., self-descriptive) than the
There were also marked differences between the groups
regarding on which personal attribute they said they most wanted
feedback. While 58 percent of the high self-esteem group listed
their best attribute first, only 36 percent of the depressed
participants listed their best attribute first, suggesting
depressed individuals fail to pursue evaluations that are likely to
be favorable as aggressively as non-depressed people.
But, the authors caution, these data should not be taken to
mean that depressed people should be blamed for their own
depression. Seeking feedback that is consistent with one's own
self-views, they note, is part of the process we all employ to
maintain or restore feelings of prediction and control. People
with depression, then, are doing what people with high self-esteem
do: looking for confirmation of their own self-views.
Unfortunately, because depressed people tend to possess negative
self-views, seeking feedback that confirms those views produces the
added and unwanted effect of maintaining their depression.
Article: "Self-Verification in Clinical Depression: The
Desire for Negative Evaluation" by R. Brian Giesler, Baylor College
of Medicine and Houston Veterans Affairs Medical Center; Robert A.
Josephs, Ph.D., and William B. Swann, Jr., Ph.D., University of
Texas at Austin, in Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol. 105, No.
3, pp 358-368.
(Full text available from the APA Public Affairs Office.)
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