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[flagged] Depressed People See the World More Realistically (vice.com)
56 points by elorant 11 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 41 comments





> researchers presented both depressed and non-depressed participants with a button and a green light. They then asked the participants to figure out to what degree their responses (pushing the button) controlled that light. Depressed participants were much better at judging the degree of their control, while participants who weren't depressed tended to assume that they had more control over the light than they actually did.

Well that settles it then, doesn't it?


This is the kind of post I would expect to see on Reddit, not here.

It's up there with "Porn viewers are more likely to be respectful of women" on the science sub-reddit, I didn't even bother to read the article because come. on.


Yes it is a bit like presenting somebody with two buttons, one green and one red and asking them to press one. Then concluding that those who pressed the red button was depressed and how hard and quick the pressed it determined how depressed they were and equally those who pressed the green button the hardest and quickest were the most happiest people alive.

First, a nitpick about a theme prevalent in psychological research: drawing sweeping conclusions from a single specific experiment.

Here the "broad conclusion drawn" is that depressed people see the world more realistically -- which if true could have sweeping implications in many areas of life (e.g. they would make better stock pickers, they should be put in command of armies).

The single specific experiment is a 1979 study on correlation between a light bulb and a button. Has this study been replicated? Is the result robust to trivial variations, like predicting a biased random walk, or a continuous correlation (like how hard someone hits a pad versus how many lights light up)? Where's the literature review article for the broad conclusion? (Oh right, this is Vice!)

Now that the nitpick is out of the way, suppose the conclusion is true. A thought experiment would be would a person who estimates light-button correlation accurately be the best at a particular job?

If you wanted to get the best statistical estimate of a correlation, then the more realistic estimator is best for the job. But imagine a situation where you press a button and a green light would light up 10% more often if you press the button versus not. If your goal instead is to get the maximum amount of green light, you'd actually want the person to be pressing the button as often as possible. You'd actually want the person who overestimates his own effectiveness because he'll put in more effort and yield better results!

Generally speaking, it's possible that someone who moderately overestimates her own effectiveness in the world will be better at getting things done in the world, versus the realistic estimate.

Partially related, but I'm reminded of Elon's quote: > I’d Rather Be Optimistic and Wrong Than Pessimistic and Right


> drawing sweeping conclusions from a single specific experiment

It seems that you are bringing up the main issue with modern scientific production. Research studies that do not have sweeping/popular/weird conclusions do not get press and the ones that do get coverage. That creates a perverse incentive for researchers to either do research in "popular" topics and to have new insights/conclusions even when these are not really supported by the results.

It is not an accident that you are reading about this specific study in vice rather than the 100s of other incrementalist studies about depression that got published over the past year.


Without having dug out the study, I'm not sure that applies here. "Here's an experiment that suggests X could be a thing", later studies find "yes, might be a thing, but doesn't translate very well to other setups and cases" is completely fine process. What's not is someone coming 40 years later and throwing a breathless generalized headline on it, despite actually mentioning the negative results later.

I don't think it's fair to pick on psychological research, this is a phenomenon present in all reporting on science... and I think it's more of a reporting issue (they're incentivized on collecting eyeballs, not accuracy). I've often read the studies behind the articles to find that the study is much more realistic and less apt to draw conclusions beyond "one possibility is X, but more research is needed."

It depends on where on the spectrum you arbitrarily decide is the cutoff point for depression. The causality in the title may be reversed though. I think rational people tend to be less happy because they are less able to participate in the mass delusions that give the average person happiness, such as certain religions (God, king of kings, loves you; the afterlife is going to be nirvana, etc) to give one example.

That implies that religious people are not rational and that the only true philosophy is atheism. Atheism relies on its own assumptions though like the existence of logic and the ability of the human mind to rationally analyze evidence, both of which have to be taken on faith.

Agnostics also have to assume that a human brain is capable of weighing evidence in a reasonable way.


This is arrant nonsense.

If you adopt a perspective of totalising scepticism then, of course, you will shrink into a solipsistic disbelief of everything. But the fact there is no Archimedean foundation of knowledge doesn't mean we ought to treat all truth claims equal. There are logical and mathematical truths that are a condition of the world being intelligible to us, and that structure the internal working of nature insofar as we can understand it. We can have justified beliefs about many things, but we cannot have a justified belief in God, which requires dogmatic faith.

Also, there are glaring internal contradictions in the major world religions. If God is good and omnipotent, then why is there pain and suffering? How can God be one and three things at the same time, as the doctrine of the Trinity tells us?


“ Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the mind of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them” - Dickens, Hard Times

Be careful if you truly want to find the answers to those questions, it is a dangerous road.

Think of Jesus as just a literary character in an epic myth. I could care less if you don’t believe in the things as facts. Most christians I know believe in a factual Jesus without believing in the mythical Jesus.

What actually makes this mythical character from classical literature so appealing? Don’t read the book as a bunch of facts, think about what it means. It is less relevant to me that the creation of Adam was a literal creation from dust, and not some step in the evolution of biological life, it is what that mythical character means, what he represents to our psyche that is of first importance.


I'm not a positivist, and I think much of life should be approached in the vein of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. By which I mean, as meaning-making tied to real activities within socio-historically specific forms of life. But that doesn't mean you ought to abdicate one's critical faculties and wilfully enter into self-serving delusions. I can understand and appreciate nationalism, for example, without accepting its constitutive myths as fact, or losing sight of its role in sustaining collective delusions. In fact, I would say that you cannot fully understand it without that clear-sightedness.

>Atheism relies on its own assumptions though like the existence of logic and the ability of the human mind to rationally analyze evidence, both of which have to be taken on faith

This really isn't the place for this discussion, but I can see evidence that at least suggests something that looks like logic or rational thought exists. The ability of people to seem to be able to do simple arithmetic is evidence for both. I don't need faith in it, I'm aware the world could exist with both things being an illusion.

The existence of God is something that it's nearly impossible to even imagine what external evidence for it would truly be. It relies solely on internal faith.

That said, I don't like the wholesale write off of faith as "delusions to make you happy." Just because I can't understand it doesn't necessarily make it rubbish.


Logic makes a compelling case for itself, and some leaps of faith are larger than others.

At least you admit that those who see a good god at work are happier then the meaningless existence of the atheist.

Though this isn’t really true either. Nearly all homeless folk I go out and talk to and smoke a cigarette with, believe in God, but I would generally say they are pretty miserable. Belief in a god hardly makes you happy. But it can make the suffering of life (an inevitably of life, contrary to those trying to build a progressive utopia), more meaningful.

If you’re homeless, and treated like crap left and right, by yourself and others, lacking in the dignity every human deserves, the idea that a god (a king) would care about the lowest of low, and even be on your side is something powerful.

The ability to not crumble under suffering from oppressive evil men, and instead have it be your glory, is not easy with no idea of a good god. That is why the story of blacks in America is glorious. They endured through hell, again and again (even after slavery), and now have the potential to be a powerful people if they can cast off that which binds them. The pessimist says they’re victims, the optimists says they are and can be victors.


Happier? Statistically, yes. More meaningful? Definitely no. Believing your life to be meaningful is not the same as actually having a meaningful life.

As a recovered depressed person who went on SSRIs and through therapy to recover, this is nonsense.

A depressed person’s view is completely warped from reality. One of the key parts of cognitive behavioral therapy is slowly training yourself out of horribly inaccurate views about yourself and the world.


No reason to see it like this, it's not helpful and I'd argue is probably just wrong.

I get depressed (I take SSRIs, too) because we live in 2021 and I see people taking advantage of each other on a daily basis, killing each other over things that don't matter. I have a front row seat to watching some of the world's greatest minds argue over semantics. That's the real world. That's realistic.

Whether you take that to nihilism is something else. I know the pit of despair depression you are talking about but it is a spectrum.


The article said mildly depressed people could have a more accurate view of reality, not majorly depressed people. Quite different. A mildly depressed person doesn't have a completely warped view of reality like a majorly depressed person does.

The biggest difference in mild vs medium vs major depression is how long you experience symptoms. They all have more or less the same symptoms, it's just that major depression lasts a long time. All forms of depression are a warped view of reality. This article, and the experiment that it draws from are wrong.

Or perhaps one method of recovering from depression is training yourself to honestly believe a fantasy about reality, and learning to see your previous, depressive worldview as inaccurate is part of that training.

Seriously. Same thing here. I wasn't realistic: I was in a downward spiral of negative feedback and thought errors. WTF are these authors talking about?

As a chronically depressed person who was once on SSRIs for a long period of time, I disagree. I don't know if being depressed gives me a more accurate view of reality, but I would say for certain that it does not inherently give me a less accurate one.

As someone on SSRI's as well, I think it's a bit of a mixed bag. I've definitely experienced CBT where my therapist and I worked to tear down some overly harsh views of myself (unrealistic).

The flipside is my struggle with weight.

I (ill-advisedly and not entirely purposefully) was off of my SSRIs for about a week while I was already mildly depressed about my weight gain.

I was much more depressed about it in that week, and I definitely feel like this was because I was forced to deal with the reality of the situation, whereas on my SSRIs I was more easily able to push it out of my mind. There are times when your depression is driven by tough reality (for me, that diet, exercise and un-ending hard work are needed for weight loss), and the only way to become happy in spite of this is either commit to the work or choose to ignore it.


Or perhaps you were more depressed that week because your mind was going through withdraws from not having your medication.

When it comes to your weight, it's not about pushing the thought of your weight gain out of your head. It's about combating the lies that you are telling yourself about your weight gain: that it means you are lazy, unlovable, disgusting, etc. The way you be happy in spite of your weight gain is not to either commit to the work or choose to ignore it (although for peoples health it's definitely good to commit to the work) but is rather to not view your weight gain as a statement of your self. You are not your problems, you are not your weight.


This is a terrible conclusion from a terrible experiment. From what I understand, they set up a condition where a subject had low control over an outcome (light being turned on) and then asked them to assess how much control they actually had.

Since the experiment was set up to provide low control, those with feelings of low control (depression) were more likely to be right. If the experiment was biased to provide a lot of control, the depressed would not be "realistic" - they would under-value how much control they actually have.

Maybe I am misunderstanding the experiment but that's what I see.

In reality, you have a TON of agency in your life where your attitude drives the outcome. Eg - if you are depressed and out of shape, you will believe "I can never get fit" so you won't bother getting off the couch and this your pessimistic prediction will come true. Meanwhile someone else can believe they can do this, get off the couch and start exercising. So they will then make their own prediction come true.

In the end it's as the serenity prayer says: G-d, grant me the Serenity To accept the things I cannot change... Courage to change the things I can, And Wisdom to know the difference.

Nihilism and depression are no more realistic than mindless optimism. But if you had to chose one, chose action because it can drive change


This seems like a terrible click bait article.

Judging a green light doesn’t seem like an accurate representation of “reality” when it comes to the complexity of an actual human existence.

And if someone can tell me objectively what reality is I’ll give them a million dollars. It’s literally impossible to arrive at (for a life situation) since every human filters existence through their own brain determined by genetics and their experience to date.


I agree with you about the article - but I reject your thesis that this is unknowable. you need to design an experiment to measure the success of predictive outcomes from 'depressed' and 'normal' people.

does this generalize? probably not. I'd be more concerned about coming up with a characterization of who is 'depressed'..but presumably people have made some progress on that?


Maybe I'm wrong - and this is merely my personal opinion - but I think this article is pointing towards the common "pitfalls" of life. And how a person can coerce themselves to be happy despite there being so much injustice in the world.

It's quite easy to be depressed about things like financial inequality, conscious pollution of the planet, relationships. Not because those things are lacking or in excess, but because they often govern our surroundings.

I've had my fair share of depressive slumps myself. I made mistakes in my late teens, and then in mid 20s also (although they didn't seem like mistakes at the time), but it doesn't necessarily give me a very strong sense of realism.

And perhaps this is anecdotal, but it's quite rare to meet a genuinely happy person.


There is some research [1] to suggest that intelligence (ability) is correlated with depression.

So reversing the title's causality:

People who see the world realistically are more depressed.

[1] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bad-news-for-the-...


The big shift in my thinking came from understanding that negative thoughts are indeed logical for the most part but not necessarily conducive to good outcomes. So to actually be successful you have to adopt cognitive distortions that lean toward optimism and action. You can't win against negative internal dialogue with rationality, so the only way to get past it is to be unreasonable. Reject any negative thought with prejudice as soon as possible, like in few milliseconds, at least until you're healthier. This overtime trains your mind to think fewer of those negative points. Which in turn allows you to focus on good things and kinda delude yourself into taking action, actions tend to lead to better outcomes.

I see where you're coming from, and I can see that being true, but that has a steep price that I personally am not willing to pay. Objective truth matters to me a lot, and if I'm a bit more of a downer because of it, so be it. Just my 2¢, but I'd be very interested in how many other people here feel the same way.

Objective truth does matter, but there are many truths. Not all truths lead to best outcome. You can still aim for unfiltered truth but choose to not dwell on all of them. For example knowing exact date of death of your loved ones won't make you live a happy fulfilling life. It'd occupy your mind obsessively, like if they had terminal cancer. Eliminating any possibility of you experiencing most joyful moments in meaningful way.

> The people most likely to experience depressive realism? Introverts, males, and people with high IQs

Ok, That does tick a lot of boxes in the tech World.

Shame mental health support for depression is geared towards more average IQ levels and even then, their go to is have some pills.


"The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true." - Oppenheimer

A very good book “Learned Optimism” talked about this phenomenon.

Pessimists would guess the score they got on a test and be pretty spot on, optimists would guess they did better than they did, yet the scores of the optimist on average were higher than that of the pessimist.


In any case, even if it's true, it's a detrimental clarity. The same way that nihilism doesn't really help you.

Yeah, we all are going to die and everything is pointless on the grand scheme of things, who cares?

Enjoy the ride, not the destination.


As with most human traits, there are likely evolutionary benefits for certain responses in prior times. E.g. someone is depressed, shows symptoms that activate the community to help find issues that need addressing.

Pretty sure my depression stems in part from looking at the world a bit too critically.

What an absurd article.


In other words: Ignorance is bliss.



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