A controversial finding in the field of causal learning is that mood contributes to the accuracy of perceptions of uncorrelated relationships. When asked to report the degree of control between an action and its outcome, people with dysphoria or depression are claimed to be more realistic in reporting non-contingency (e.g., Alloy and Abramson, 1979). The strongest evidence for this depressive realism (DR) effect is derived from data collected with experimental procedures in which the dependent variables are verbal or written ratings of contingency or cause, and, perhaps more importantly, the independent variable in these procedures may be ambiguous and difficult to define. In order to address these possible confounds, we used a two-response free-operant causal learning task in which the dependent measures were performance based. Participants were required to respond to maximize the occurrence of a temporally contiguous outcome that was programmed with different probabilities, which also varied temporally across two responses. Dysphoric participants were more sensitive to the changing outcome contingencies than controls even though they responded at a similar rate. During probe trials, in which the outcome was masked, their performance recovered more quickly than that of the control group. These data provide unexpected support for the DR hypothesis suggesting that dysphoria is associated with heightened sensitivity to temporal shifts in contingency.
Msetfi, R. M., Murphy, R. A., & Kornbrot, D. E. (2012). Dysphoric mood states are related to sensitivity to temporal changes in contingency. Frontiers in Psychology, 3(SEP). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00368