Decision-Making and Depressive Symptomatology

Cognit Ther Res. 2011 Aug;35(4):333-341. doi: 10.1007/s10608-010-9308-0. Epub 2010 May 4.


Difficulty making decisions is a core symptom of depressive illness, but the nature of these difficulties has not been well characterized. The two studies presented herein use the same hypothetical scenarios that call for a decision. In Study 1, participants were asked to make and explain their decisions in a free-response format, as well as to describe their prior experiences with similar situations. The results suggest that those with more depressive symptoms make decisions that are less likely to further their interests. We also identified several interesting associations between features of decision-making and the presence of depressive symptoms. In Study 2, participants were guided through their decisions with simple decision tools to investigate whether the association between depressive symptoms and poor decisions is better accounted for by failure to use of good decision-making strategies, or by other factors, such as differences in priorities or goals. With this minimal intervention the quality of decisions no longer declined significantly as a function of depressive symptom severity. Moreover, few associations between depressive symptom severity and decision-related goals and priorities were evident, suggesting that the previously-exposed difficulties of depressed individuals with decision-making were largely the result of their failure to use effective decision-making techniques.