Affective Biases in Humans and Animals

Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2016;28:263-86. doi: 10.1007/7854_20105_5011.


Depression is one of the most common but poorly understood psychiatric conditions. Although drug treatments and psychological therapies are effective in some patients, many do not achieve full remission and some patients receive no apparent benefit. Developing new improved treatments requires a better understanding of the aetiology of symptoms and evaluation of novel therapeutic targets in pre-clinical studies. Recent developments in our understanding of the basic cognitive processes that may contribute to the development of depression and its treatment offer new opportunities for both clinical and pre-clinical research. This chapter discusses the clinical evidence supporting a cognitive neuropsychological model of depression and antidepressant efficacy, and how this information may be usefully translated to pre-clinical investigation. Studies using neuropsychological tests in depressed patients and at risk populations have revealed basic negative emotional biases and disrupted reward and punishment processing, which may also impact on non-affective cognition. These affective biases are sensitive to antidepressant treatments with early onset effects observed, suggesting an important role in recovery. This clinical work into affective biases has also facilitated back-translation to animals and the development of assays to study affective biases in rodents. These animal studies suggest that, similar to humans, rodents in putative negative affective states exhibit negative affective biases on decision-making and memory tasks. Antidepressant treatments also induce positive biases in these rodent tasks, supporting the translational validity of this approach. Although still in the early stages of development and validation, affective biases in depression have the potential to offer new insights into the clinical condition, as well as facilitating the development of more translational approaches for pre-clinical studies.

Keywords: Animal model; Antidepressants; Emotion; Major depressive disorder; Reward; Rodents.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neuropsychological Tests