People who suffer from depression appear to be disconnected from their intuition, or gut instincts, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology.
The findings may help explain why depressed people often have a hard time making decisions.
For the study, Carina Remmers, a researcher from the University of Hildesheim in Germany, and her team asked 29 patients with major depression and 27 healthy controls to complete the Judgment of Semantic Coherence Task, a well-established scientific measure of intuition.
The researchers presented participants with groups of three words (e.g. salt, deep, foam). In less than three and a half seconds, the participants had to decide whether the three words were linked in meaning by a fourth word (in this case the answer was “yes” and the word was sea).
If the participants answered that the words were linked, they were given eight more seconds to provide the linking word. They were also allowed to say that they felt the words were linked, but that they didn’t know how. When this was the case, it was taken by the researchers as an instance of intuition (knowing without knowing why).
No differences were found between the depressed patients and controls in how often they answered correctly for the fourth linking word, nor in the number times they gave no response at all. This suggests both groups were similarly motivated and attentive to the task.
However, the depressed patients gave fewer correct intuitive answers (i.e. when they answered correctly that the words were linked but didn’t consciously know how).
Having poorer intuition on the task was associated with a higher measure of brooding (indicated by agreement with statements like “When I am sad, I think ‘Why do I have problems others don’t have?’”). This connection, in turn, appeared to be explained by the fact that the brooding patients felt more miserable.
The researchers note that their study is the first to investigate intuition in people with major depression. The findings are consistent with previous research on healthy people showing that low mood encourages an analytical style of thinking and inhibits a creative, more intuitive style of thinking.
According to National Institute of Mental Health, major depression causes severe symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy life. It is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States with about 6.7 percent of adults affected each year.
This article first appeared on ‘Psych Central’ on 9 November 2014.