Enhanced attention to context: An intervention that increases perceived control in mild depression

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2016;69(6):1073-81. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2016.1138134. Epub 2016 Feb 19.


People perceive that they have control over events to the extent that the same events do not occur outside of their control, randomly, in the environment or context. Therefore, perceived control should be enhanced if there is a large contrast between one's own control and the control that the context itself seems to exert over events. Given that depression is associated with low perceived control, we tested the hypothesis that enhanced attentional focus to context will increase perceived control in people with and without depression. A total of 106 non-depressed and mildly depressed participants completed a no control zero-contingency task with low and high outcome probability conditions. In the experimental context-focus group, participants were instructed to attend to the context, whereas in the control group, participants were instructed to attend to their thoughts. Irrespective of attentional focus, non-depressed participants displayed illusory control. However, people with mild depression responded strongly to the attention focus manipulation. In the control group, they evidenced low perceived control with classic depressive realism effects. In the experimental group, when asked to focus on the context in which events took place, participants with mild depression displayed enhanced perceived control or illusory control, similar to non-depressed participants. Findings are discussed in relation to whether depression effects on perceived control represent tendencies towards realism or attentional aspects of depressive thoughts.

Keywords: Attention; Context; Contingency learning; Depression; Depressive realism; Perceived control.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Association Learning / physiology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / etiology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / rehabilitation*
  • Depression / complications*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Self Concept
  • Young Adult