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Logo of jnnpsycJournal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and PsychiatryVisit this articleSubmit a manuscriptReceive email alertsContact usBMJ
J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1997 July; 63(1): 74–82.
PMCID: PMC2169625

Abnormal response to negative feedback in unipolar depression: evidence for a diagnosis specific impairment


OBJECTIVES—To assess in further detail the specific form of motivational impairment influencing neuropsychological performance in depression—oversensitivity to perceived failure. The present study considers two questions: firstly whether this is specific to depression and secondly how the effect relates to clinical features.
METHODS—Unipolar depressed patients and matched controls were assessed on two neuropsychological tests giving explicit performance feedback. The data were analysed in two separate studies to consider the questions above. The first study considered the specificity of the effect to depressed patients, using data on the same tests collected from other patient groups. The second study was a longitudinal assessment of the depressed patients on clinical recovery to determine whether the effect is specific to the depressed state.
RESULTS—The effect was not seen in non-depressed patient groups, either neurological or psychiatric groups. The longitudinal study showed a residual abnormal response to negative feedback on clinical recovery.
CONCLUSIONS—Abnormal response to negative feedback is specific to a primary diagnosis of depression and may be a trait rather than a state factor of the disorder. These results are discussed in relation to the putative neuropathology of depression and also to cognitive and behavioural accounts of the disorder. The findings presented here have important implications for establishing a link between mood and cognition in unipolar depression.

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