Dysphoric mood states are related to sensitivity to temporal changes in contingency
- 1Department of Psychology, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland
- 2Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
- 3School of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK
A controversial finding in the field of causal learning is that mood contributes to the accuracy of perceptions of uncorrelated relationships. When asked to report the degree of control between an action and its outcome, people with dysphoria or depression are claimed to be more realistic in reporting non-contingency (e.g., Alloy and Abramson, 1979). The strongest evidence for this depressive realism (DR) effect is derived from data collected with experimental procedures in which the dependent variables are verbal or written ratings of contingency or cause, and, perhaps more importantly, the independent variable in these procedures may be ambiguous and difficult to define. In order to address these possible confounds, we used a two-response free-operant causal learning task in which the dependent measures were performance based. Participants were required to respond to maximize the occurrence of a temporally contiguous outcome that was programmed with different probabilities, which also varied temporally across two responses. Dysphoric participants were more sensitive to the changing outcome contingencies than controls even though they responded at a similar rate. During probe trials, in which the outcome was masked, their performance recovered more quickly than that of the control group. These data provide unexpected support for the DR hypothesis suggesting that dysphoria is associated with heightened sensitivity to temporal shifts in contingency.
Keywords: causality, contingency, reinforcement, matching, maximization, learning, depression, depressive realism
Citation: Msetfi RM, Murphy RA and Kornbrot DE (2012) Dysphoric mood states are related to sensitivity to temporal changes in contingency. Front. Psychology 3:368. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00368
Received: 29 May 2012; Paper pending published: 13 June 2012;
Accepted: 07 September 2012; Published online: 27 September 2012.
Copyright: © 2012 Msetfi, Murphy and Kornbrot. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.
*Correspondence: Rachel M. Msetfi, Department of Psychology, University of Limerick, Castletroy, Limerick, Ireland. e-mail: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org