Associations of negative affective biases and depressive symptoms in a community-based sample

Laura de Nooij (Lead / Corresponding author), Mark J. Adams, Emma L. Hawkins, Liana Romaniuk, Marcus R. Munafò, Ian S. Penton-Voak, Rebecca Elliott, Amy R. Bland, Jonathan P. Roiser, Gordon D. Waiter, Anca-Larisa Sandu-Giuraniuc, Tina Habota, J. Douglas Steele, Ian J. Deary, Andrew M. McIntosh, Heather C. Whalley, Generation Scotland

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Background: Previous studies suggest Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is associated with negative affective cognitive biases. The nature of these differences however remains uncertain, including whether they normalise with remission. This study investigated associations between affective cognition and MDD within a large community-based sample.

Methods: Participants from Generation Scotland (N=1,179) completed three affective tasks: (i) Bristol Emotion Recognition Task (BERT), (ii) Face Affective Go/No-go (FAGN), and (iii) adapted Cambridge Gambling Task (CGT). Individuals were classified as MDD-current (n=43), MDD-remitted (n=282), or non-MDD controls (n=784). Main analyses tested associations between summary affective bias measures and depressive symptoms (across the entire sample), and between MDD-remitted versus controls. Exploratory analyses examined responses in more detail per condition.

Results: We report a significant association between increasing depressive symptom severity and lower CGT win risk adjustment (standardised coefficient =-0.02, p=0.03). This attenuated when non-affective cognition (g) was accounted for and when restricting analysis to those not currently taking antidepressant medication. The main analysis revealed no further affective biases, including for the comparison of MDD-remitted versus controls. Exploratory analyses however revealed a complex pattern of subtle negative biases associated with depressive symptoms.

Conclusions: Individuals with high depressive symptom scores showed reduced motivation for reward; they were less likely to bet more points under increasingly favourable win conditions. This was partially explained by non-affective cognition and antidepressant use. Results from this community-based sample showed limited evidence for overarching facial affective processing impairments in MDD, though subtle negative biases related to symptom severity appeared in the exploratory analyses.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Medicine
Early online date21 Sep 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Sep 2022


  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • affective cognition
  • negative bias
  • remitted
  • emotion recognition
  • facial processing


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