In a study published by PLos Computational Biology, by researchers at University College London, participants (all without clinical depression) were asked to make a series of decisions involving a maze and money. Choosing certain pathways penalized the players at the beginning of the game, but led to greater rewards later on.
It was found that the players who avoided the initially negative pathways despite the possibility of future gain reported a greater number of depressive symptoms than the players who took the risks and got the bigger pay-off.
The researchers called this decision-making process “pruning.” When faced with hundreds of options, one method of determining which choice to make is to rule out the possibilities that involve initial discomfort.
For instance, a person might choose to buy a car because it is cheaper initially, even though the vehicle has a reputation for needing more repairs over time. Even though this is a poorer choice in the long term, a person who is pruning based on the avoidance of short-term loss to may at first think that it was the better decision.
There are two obvious conclusions that could be reached from this study. One is to conclude that the tendency of depressed people to make bad choices contributes to depression. Another is that when people are depressed they are so conditioned to avoid pain that they automatically rule out difficult choices despite any long-term benefit.
I originally favored the second interpretation, knowing how sensitive those of us with Major Depressive Disorder are to enduring further pain, but on considering the matter further I now think that this is a “chicken and egg” situation.
I believe that depressed people get into a cycle of avoiding difficult choices with immediate pain but long-term gain because their burden of pain is already so heavy to bear. Eventually, when they realize that they have made bad decisions and missed opportunities their regret adds to their misery.
Whether it is going through the rigors of exercise in order to reap the benefits of a healthier body or getting past a fear of flying to reunite with family members, what difficult decision is keeping you from experiencing long-term rewards?
Grace Rattue. “Depression And Bad Choices Linked To Bias In Decision-Making.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 8 Mar. 2012. Web.
27 Mar. 2012. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/242676.php
Public Library of Science. “Decision-Making, Poor Choices And Depression.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 11 Mar. 2012. Web.
27 Mar. 2012. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/242697.php