Improved thinking skills through depression?

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The good side of depression: Researchers show for the first time improved thinking ability in patients with depression

Depression increases the ability to think analytically, according to the result of a joint study by researchers from the University of Basel, Clarkson University / USA, Stanford University / USA, the Technical University of Munich and the Berlin Charité. In their studies, the scientists found positive effects of mental illness on the ability to think for the first time.

In addition to the enormous stress that depression brings with it for those affected and their personal environment, mental illness also has a positive side effect, the researchers report in the current issue of the journal "Journal of Abnormal Psychology". In their study, in which the test subjects' analytical thinking was tested, the depressed participants had performed significantly better than the healthy participants.

Comparative Thinking Ability of Depressed and Healthy Patients As part of its current study, the international research team compared the thinking ability of people with diagnosed depression, patients who have survived a depression, and healthy study participants. Bettina von Helversen / University of Basel, Andreas Wilke / Clarkson University, Tim Johnson / Stanford University, Gabriele Schmid / Technical University of Munich and Burghard Klapp / Berlin Charité found that the mentally ill study participants were significantly better off in their analytical ability than healthy people or ex-depressive. They tested the test subjects with the help of a computer game in which various decisions, such as hiring an applicant to find a job, made money. The study participants were offered a number of applicants, each of whom was assigned a specific value. The virtual job seekers were presented to the study participants one after the other in a random order, and each of the participants could decide whether to opt for it or prefer to refuse and continue to search. The better the test subjects chose, the more fictitious income they could achieve.

Analytical thinking of depressed subjects improved The subjects with depression performed significantly better overall in the corresponding tests than the formerly depressed and healthy people, the researchers report. For example, when selecting applicants, the depressed study participants would have taken considerably more time to analyze job seekers more closely. While the healthy test subjects made a relatively quick decision, the depressed people proceeded much more carefully in their considerations, explained Bettina von Helversen and colleagues. In the end, they made better decisions on average than the healthy or ex-depressed, the researchers report. Their study provides the first proof that the mental illness can also have positive effects on the ability to think, the scientists write in the "Journal of Abnormal Psychology"

Effects of Depression on Thinking Ability Controversial Discussion So far, experts have been extremely controversial as to whether depression is more likely to impair thinking ability or improve, particularly in the area of ​​analytical thinking. Various studies have shown that depression worsens the cognitive performance of those affected, but the effects on thinking ability in general - as in the current study - often point in a different direction. In the USA in particular, numerous scientists take the position that depression is a kind of adaptation of the brain to the complexity of the tasks to be solved. Those affected would approach problems more analytically and persistently, thereby promoting the solving of complex tasks, the researchers write. The current study is now the first to provide evidence that depression actually improves analytical thinking, the scientists conclude in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. However, it remains unclear what consequences this finding could have in the treatment of those affected.

Stress is often the cause of depression According to Florian Holsboer, director of the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry, around four million people in Germany suffer from depression. This results in direct and indirect costs of 15.5 to 22 billion euros annually, according to the results of a study presented in April by the Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (RWI). In view of the dramatic increase in the number of depressive illnesses in the past decades, experts worldwide are intensively searching for possible causes for the occurrence of the depression and are researching new treatment methods that could offer those affected a promising perspective. To date, stress is primarily blamed as the cause of depression in addition to genetic predispositions. Depression can be counteracted relatively successfully with the help of appropriate stress avoidance strategies, such as relaxation exercises, autogenic training, tai chi, yoga or acupuncture, but these also do not offer real protection against depression. In people who already suffer from depression, the stress avoidance strategies can hardly achieve any treatment success anyway and a psychologist or psychotherapist should be consulted urgently, since the mental illness can become a considerable burden for those affected and their personal environment. (fp)

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Image: Gerd Altmann,

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