Depression reduces perceptual sensitivity for positive words and pictures

Ruth Ann Atchley, Stephen S. Ilardi, Keith M. Young, Natalie N. Stroupe, Aminda J. O'Hare, Steven L. Bistricky, Elizabeth Collison, Linzi Gibson, Jonathan Schuster, Rebecca J. Lepping

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


There is evidence of maladaptive attentional biases for lexical information (e.g., Atchley, Ilardi, & Enloe, 2003; Atchley, Stringer, Mathias, Ilardi, & Minatrea, 2007) and for pictographic stimuli (e.g., Gotlib, Krasnoperova, Yue, & Joormann, 2004) among patients with depression. The current research looks for depressotypic processing biases among depressed out-patients and non-clinical controls, using both verbal and pictorial stimuli. A d′ measure (sensitivity index) was used to examine each participant's perceptual sensitivity threshold. Never-depressed controls evidenced a detection bias for positive picture stimuli, while depressed participants had no such bias. With verbal stimuli, depressed individuals showed specific decrements in the detection of positive person-referent words (WINNER), but not with positive non-person-referent words (SUNSHINE) or with negative words. Never-depressed participants showed no such differences across word types. In the current study, depression is characterised both by an absence of the normal positivistic biases seen in individuals without mood disorders (consistent with McCabe & Gotlib, 1995), and by a specific reduction in sensitivity for person-referent positive information that might be inconsistent with depressotypic self-schemas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1359-1370
Number of pages12
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Correspondence should be addressed to: Ruth Ann Atchley, 1415 Jayhawk Blvd., University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA. E-mail: This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (Sponsor award: R24MH67508, NIH37530).


  • Attention
  • Cognitive bias
  • Depression
  • Perception
  • Pictures
  • Words


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