Depressive Realism Hypothesis

     Depressive Realism is a hypothesis developed by Lauren Alloy and Lyn Yvonne Abramson in 1979. Their theory suggests that depressed people have a more realistic view of the world compared to non-depressed individuals. The theory from these two psychologists' sheds light on negative and positive cognitive biases and the effect on individual realities. The results remain controversial having evidence on both sides of the argument.

     The most notable evidence supporting depressive realism is an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) study that was performed in 2012 on a small group of depressed and healthy individuals. There were 15 depressed individuals in the experimental group and 15 healthy individuals in the control group. All individuals were native German speakers and right handed. They were assessed by the Edinburgh Handedness Inventory. Furthermore, in the experimental group none of the individuals had any substance abuse for the last six months and no psychiatric or neurological illnesses. The severity of the symptoms were assessed by the Beck Depression Inventory and the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale. The control group was screened for no history of psychiatric or neurological illness including head trauma with loss of consciousness. All the participants completed a neuropsychological test assessing executive functions and working memory. The subjects' self-esteem was estimated using the German version of the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. The participants were asked either self-serving or non self-serving questions while the brain scans were performed. Through this study the fMRI was able to determine differences in the frontotemporal network between depressed and healthy individuals. The other significant changes found in the fMRI was a reduced coupling of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the limbic areas in depressed individuals relating to self-serving attributions. 

     Through the fMRI studies, neurology can prove that something different is going on inside the brains of depressed individuals. The healthy individuals had a higher activation of the frontotemporal network for non self-serving attributions whereas the depressed individuals had a higher activation of this network for self-serving attributions. The depressed participants were more accurate at describing themselves over others while the healthy participants were more accurate at describing others over themselves. What also set the depressed individual apart from the healthy individual was the reduced coupling of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the limbic areas. This was observed for self-serving attributions. In a healthy non-depressed individual, a stronger coupling was observed for self-serving attributions. These findings can confirm real differences in the brains of depressed individuals.

   Even though changes in the brain can be determined, the evidence is not enough to convince everyone. A reversal in positive or negative outcomes towards self-serving and non self-serving attributions can be seen between depressed individuals and healthy individuals. If depressed individuals are supposed to be more accurate at the way they view the world the study can't show that they are more accurate all the time. Only in situations specific towards self-serving attributions they are more accurate while healthy individuals are more accurate towards non self serving attributions. There can also be a difference in the accuracy of the responses depending if participants answer immediately or after some time. A study from 1977 shows how a depressed person can give accurate answers immediately but if they respond some time after their responses become more negative. This study also showed that healthy people gave more positive responses immediately and some time after. Another study from 1977 showed that in situations where depressed individuals have no control they can accurately asses that they have no control. When a depressed individual does have control, they will still asses that they have no control. When it comes to real world applications the accuracy of the depressed individual falls apart. A thesis written by Michael T. Moore and David M. Fresco at Kent State University shows that depressed individuals are overconfident and less accurate in their assumptions of the future. These studies seem to conclude that the accuracy of a depressed individual is based on situation.

     The 'Depressive Realism Hypothesis' does seem to prove a higher accuracy of reality in depressed individuals only relating to the self. When it came to non self-serving attributions it was found that the healthy non-depressed individuals were more accurate. While this hypothesis might only be true in some regards, according to the situation, it does bring forth interesting insights. The negativity-based thoughts of a depressed person have the opposite results of the positively based thoughts of a healthy person. The depressed may have a more accurate view of the reality of self while the non-depressed may have a more accurate view of their outside reality.

Author: Jordan Bonneau

Here are direct links to the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale.

Disclaimer: This is for informational purposes only. Always seek professional medical assistance regarding these matters.


The links below will provide a short description of each of the following: 

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