For people with depression, mad and sad may blur

U. MICHIGAN (US) — Clinically depressed people have a hard time telling the difference between negative emotions such as anger, guilt, and embarrassment, a new study shows.

The ability to distinguish between various emotional experiences affects how we deal with life stressors, so being unable to differentiate certain emotions from others might lead to taking inappropriate actions that exacerbate the problem, says lead author Emre Demiralp, a researcher in the department of psychology at the University of Michigan.

“It is difficult to improve your life without knowing whether you are sad or angry about some aspect of it,” Demiralp says. “For example, imagine not having a gauge independently indicating the gasoline level of your car. It would be challenging to know when to stop for gas.


“We wanted to investigate whether people with clinical depression had emotional gauges that were informative and whether they experienced emotions with the same level of specificity and differentiation as healthy people.”

Scheduled to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science, the study involved 106 people ages 18-40, half of whom were diagnosed with clinical depression. Participants carried a Palm Pilot for seven to eight days and recorded their emotions at random times each day.

They indicated how they felt based on seven negative emotions (sad, anxious, angry, frustrated, ashamed, disgusted, guilty) and four positive emotions (happy, excited, alert, active) on a scale from one (not at all) to four (a great deal).

When participants experienced two emotions at the same time, they often found it challenging to distinguish between negative emotions than positive emotions, the study found. Demiralp says positive emotions serve as a buffer in coping with negative emotions for depressed people.

Researchers from Stanford University, the University of Maryland, Northeastern University, and Istanbul Technical University contributed to the study.

Source: University of Michigan