Do Unattainable Goals Make People Depressed?

Previous studies have demonstrated that clinging to unattainable goals is linked to the onset of depression. A new study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry investigated whether symptoms of a clinical depression are adaptive in that they facilitate disengagement from unattainable goals.  A group of depressive inpatients (n = 40) was compared to a non-depressive control group (n = 38) in regard to how much time they spent on unsolvable anagrams, while controlling for group differences in the time spent on solvable anagrams. In line with the research hypothesis, depressive inpatients spent less time on unsolvable anagrams. There was no group difference in the time needed to solve the solvable anagrams.  Still, this study tested disengagement from anagram tasks in the lab in a sample of depressive inpatients and thus may not be representative for contexts of disengagement from personal goals outside the lab or for people with milder or briefer forms of depression. Follow-up questions thus concern the development of goal disengagement processes in everyday life during the course of a major depressive episode. These findings provide evidence for the view that clinical depression, although pathological, might also serve an adaptive function. The authors discuss possible implications of these findings for psychotherapy.

For the abstract


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