Emotional reactivity in depression: diminished responsiveness to anticipated reward but not to anticipated punishment or to nonreward or avoidance

Depress Anxiety. 2009;26(2):117-22. doi: 10.1002/da.20513.


Objectives: This study compared depressed and nondepressed participants' emotional reactivity to anticipated reward, anticipated punishment, failure to obtain a reward, and successful avoidance of punishment.

Experimental design: This study compared residualized change scores on target emotions for currently depressed (n=19), previously depressed (n=19), and never-depressed (n=43) participants during four experimental conditions: anticipated reward (cash), anticipated punishment (cold pressor), nonreward (failure to earn cash), and avoidance (successful avoidance of a cold pressor).

Principal observations: Currently depressed participants' reactivity in response to anticipated reward was significantly diminished compared with never depressed participants', and marginally diminished compared with previously depressed participants'. Currently depressed, previously depressed, and never-depressed participants did not differ significantly in their emotional reactivity to anticipated punishment or to nonreward or avoidance.

Conclusions: These results suggest that depressed individuals' diminished emotional reactivity may be mainly a state effect and may be limited to anticipated reward.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arousal*
  • Avoidance Learning*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology*
  • Dysthymic Disorder / psychology*
  • Emotions*
  • Feedback, Psychological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Orientation
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Personality Inventory
  • Problem Solving
  • Punishment*
  • Reference Values
  • Reward*
  • Semantics
  • Young Adult