Depression and the interpretation of ambiguity

Behav Res Ther. 1999 May;37(5):463-74. doi: 10.1016/s0005-7967(98)00131-4.


A number of studies have produced findings consistent with the possibility that depressives display a negative bias in interpretation. However, the results of such studies can equally well be explained by the operation of a depression-linked response bias, reflecting an elevated tendency for depressives to emit or endorse negatively-toned response options. The present experiment compares the patterns of interpretative processing displayed by subjects who differ in their BDI scores, using a priming methodology developed by anxiety researchers to eliminate the contaminating influence of emotional response bias. The pattern of priming effects obtained provides no evidence to support the existence of a negative interpretative bias in the more depressive individuals. Indeed, quite the reverse conclusion is sustained by the findings, which indicate that high BDI subjects showed an attenuated tendency to activate the more negative interpretations of the ambiguous textual stimuli. The conceptual and methodological implications of these findings are discussed, together with some specific suggestions for future research on this topic.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Concept Formation / physiology*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Projective Techniques*
  • Reading
  • Semantics
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology