Don’t fixate on your mistakes in difficult situations, move on

This is something we understand institutionally: that the more chaotic things get, the harder it is for people with clinical anxiety and / or depression to make correct decisions and learn from their mistakes, but now, a UC Berkeley clinical study has shown it to test. the probabilistic decision-making skills of over 300 adults, including people with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

On a more positive note, the study, which was published in the journal eLife, says that anxious and depressed people’s judgment can improve if they focus on what they’re right, instead of what they’re wrong.

In probabilistic decision making, people subconsciously use the positive or negative results of their previous actions to inform their current decisions.

The researchers found that study participants whose symptoms intersect with both anxiety and depression had the greatest problems adapting to changes when performing a computerized task that simulated a volatile or rapidly changing environment.

In contrast, emotionally resilient study participants, with few, if any, symptoms of anxiety and depression learned more quickly to adapt to changing conditions based on the actions they had previously taken to achieve the best available results.

“When everything keeps changing rapidly and you get a negative result from a decision you make, you may become fixated on what you did wrong, as is often the case with people who are clinically anxious or depressed,” said senior study author Sonia Bishop. , professor of neuroscience at UC Berkeley.

“Conversely, emotionally resilient people tend to focus on what gave them a good result, and in many real-world situations that could be the key to learning how to make good decisions,” Bishop added.

That doesn’t mean people with clinical anxiety and depression are doomed to a life of bad decisions, Bishop said. For example, personalized treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, could improve both decision-making skills and confidence by focusing on past successes, rather than failures, he noted.

The study expands Bishop’s 2015 study, which found that people with high levels of anxiety made more mistakes when tasked with making decisions during computer-based assignments that simulated stable and rapidly changing environments.

In contrast, non-anxious study participants quickly adapted to changing patterns of the task.

For this latest study, Bishop and his team examined whether people with depression would also struggle to make correct decisions in unstable environments and whether this would be true if challenged with different versions of the task. “We wanted to see if this weakness was unique to people with anxiety, or if it also occurred in people with depression, which often goes hand in hand with anxiety. We also tried to find out if the problem was general or specific to learn about the potential reward or potential threat, “Bishop said.

The first experiment involved 86 men and women between the ages of 18 and 50. The group included people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, people showing symptoms of anxiety or depression, but no formal diagnosis of these disorders, and people without anxiety. nor depression.

In a laboratory setting, study participants played a game on a computer screen in which they repeatedly chose between two shapes: a circle and a square. One form, if selected, would provide a mild to moderate electric shock and another would provide a cash reward. The likelihood of a form providing a reward or shock was predictable at some points in the activity and unstable at others. Participants with high levels of symptoms common to depression and anxiety found it difficult to keep up with these changes.

In the second experiment, 147 US adults with varying degrees of anxiety and depression were recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing marketplace and were given the same task remotely.

This time, they chose between the red and yellow squares on a screen. They still received cash rewards, but instead of being penalized with electric shocks, they lost money.

The results echoed those of the laboratory results. Overall, having symptoms common to both anxiety and depression predicted who would struggle more to make correct decisions in the face of changing circumstances, whether they were rewarded or punished for doing the right or wrong things, compared to theirs. emotionally resilient counterparts.

“We have found that people who are emotionally resilient are good at holding on to the best course of action when the world is changing fast,” Bishop said.

“People with anxiety and depression, on the other hand, are less able to adapt to these changes. Our findings suggest that they might benefit from cognitive therapies that redirect their attention to positive rather than negative outcomes,” he added. Bishop.

(With input from ANI)