Encoding of Positive Information in Depressed and Anxious Persons
Winer, Eric S.
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Two experiments assessed the extent to which people with symptoms of anxiety and depression differ from others in their selective encoding of positive information. Both experiments used a subliminal two-alternative forced-choice (2AFC) identification task to investigate subchance perception (i.e., below-chance identification) of positive information. Experiment 2 used the dot-probe (DP) in addition to the 2AFC to compare findings from the two tasks. In Experiment 1, anhedonic (i.e., extreme loss of interest in people or things in the last two weeks) individuals were less accurate at identifying subliminally-presented positive words than other groups, and were less accurate than chance (guessing) rates. Thus, they exhibited subchance perception of positive words. Experiment 2 provided further evidence that anhedonic individuals identify positive words less accurately than other groups. Non-anhedonic high-anxious individuals also less accurately identified positive words than other groups, and exhibited subchance perception of positive words. Response times on the DP task were unrelated to these findings, yielding evidence that latency and accuracy tasks may index qualitatively different phenomena. These findings represent further evidence of an inhibitory process occurring unconsciously in anxious and anhedonic persons that results in systematic misidentification of rewarding information. This may be due to a protective motivation to maintain a consistent, albeit negative, sense of self and expectation for the future. By inhibiting positive information, anxious and anhedonic individuals may be unconsciously preparing for the prospective negativity of positive things.