People with Depression Tend to Pursue Generalized Goals
University of Liverpool research finds those with clinical depression are more likely to set abstract goals that are difficult to achieve
July 8, 2013—Researchers from the University of Liverpool have found that people with depression have more generalized personal goals than non-depressed people.
A study conducted by Dr. Joanne Dickson, clinical psychology research director in the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, analyzed the lists of personal goals made by people who suffered with depression and those who didn’t.
The participants were asked to list goals they would like to achieve at any time in the short, medium or long-term. The goals were categorized for their specificity—for example, a global or abstract goal such as " to be happy" would represent a general goal, whereas a goal such as " improve my 5-mile marathon time this summer’" would represent a more specific goal.
Researchers found that while both groups generated the same number of goals, people with depression listed goals which were more general and more abstract. The study also found that depressed people were far more likely to give non-specific reasons for achieving and not achieving their goals.
Having very broad and abstract goals may maintain and exacerbate depression. Goals that are not specific are more ambiguous and, therefore, harder to visualize. If goals are difficult to visualize it may result in reduced expectation of achieving them, which in turn results in lower motivation to pursue them.
“We know that depression is associated with negative thoughts and a tendency to overgeneralize," said Dickson, "particularly in reference to how people think about themselves and their past memories.”
“This study, for the first time, examined whether this trait also encompasses personal goals," she added. "We found that the goals that people with clinical depression listed lacked a specific focus, making it more difficult to achieve them and therefore creating a downward cycle of negative thoughts."
The researchers believe these findings may offer insight into the development of effective new ways to treat clinical depression.
“Helping depressed people set specific goals and generate specific reasons for goal achievement may increase their chances of realizing them which could break the cycle of negativity which is coupled with depression,” Dickson said.
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