A new study from researchers at the University of Michigan suggests that people suffering from depression have a difficult time distinguishing between negative emotions such as anger, guilt, and sadness. This ability to identify and detect differences between various emotions can play an important role in decision-making and how people cope with stress.
"It is difficult to improve your life without knowing whether you are sad or angry about some aspect of it," explained lead author Emre Demiralp. "For example, imagine not having a gauge independently indicating the gasoline level of your car. It would be challenging to know when to stop for gas."
The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, involved 106 participants between the ages of 18 and 40, half of whom had been diagnosed with clinical depression. For approximately eight days, all participants carried a Palm Pilot and recorded their emotions at random times throughout the day.
The goal? "We wanted to investigate whether people with clinical depression had emotional gauges that were informative and whether they experienced emotions with the same level of specificity and differentiation as healthy people," Demiralp said.
Researchers found that when participants experienced two emotions at the same time, those suffering from depression had a difficult time telling the difference between negative emotions. However, both the depressed and non-depressed participants were equally capable of distinguishing between positive emotions.
Demiralp suggests that these positive emotions help depressed people cope and serve as a buffer against negative emotions.
Image by Gail Rau