Depression may actually have a positive side effect. It appears that depressed people perform better than healthy people in sequential decision tasks, according to research in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
Sequential decision tasks are a part of our problem-solving cognitive functioning abilities.
Although most symptoms of depression interfere with cognitive functioning, researchers including Paul Andrews, Ph.D., of the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics and Andy Thomson, M.D., of the University of Virginia have suggested that depression may promote analytical reasoning and persistence. These are qualities that are often helpful in complex tasks.
For the study, volunteers who were clinically depressed or recovering from depression (but otherwise healthy) were asked to play a computer game in which they could earn money by hiring an applicant in a simulated job search. The task was designed to mimic everyday decision problems and had an optimal strategy.
Each applicant was randomly “presented” to the volunteer one at a time along with an assigned monetary value. Participants then needed to determine when to stop the search and choose the current applicant.
Results revealed that the depressed participants came closer to the optimal strategy than their non-depressed counterparts. Although healthy participants searched through relatively few candidates before selecting an applicant, depressed participants conducted a more thorough search and made choices that gave them higher payoffs.
The study shows that even severe depression might yield some beneficial side effects. A full understanding of the consequences of depression may help uncover its roots and open avenues for treatment.
Source: Clarkson University