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Similar to anxiety, depression is caused by behavior, new research finds

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Last updated: June 17, 2020


depression caused by behavior image

Research led by Ann Marie Roepke and Professor Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania has found that a pessimistic view of the future may not be the result of depression but the cause of it.

The researchers reviewed literature on depression and ‘prospection’ — the mental representation of possible futures. From it they propose that three kinds of faulty prospection (behavioural styles) can drive depression.

They are:

  • poor generation of possible futures
  • poor evaluation of possible future
  • negative beliefs about the future

Based on their findings, the researchers also propose that depressed mood and poor functioning may in turn maintain faulty prospection and so feed the vicious cycle.

This negative feedback loop is similar to those who struggle with anxiety: Anxious behavior fuels anxiety, which in turn, can fuel anxious behavior.

“Prospection belongs front and centre in the study of depression. Laboratory studies are needed to confirm that faulty prospection does drive depression and to help us determine how prospection can be improved. We hope clinical scientists will invest in research on prospection to shed more light on a crucial and underappreciated process that may underlie much more than depression,” the authors said.

They went on to say, “An understanding of how prospection shapes psychopathology may enable researchers to create more effective treatments and help distressed individuals to create brighter futures.”

Since behavior is the cause of depression (and anxiety), the authors suggest that traditional psychotherapy/talk therapy, such as CBT, when used effectively, could eliminate problematic depression. We know from personal and professional experience, it will. We’ve been helping people overcome depression using cognitive and behavioral concepts for over ten years.

This is the same approach – talk therapy – that has been so successful for those who struggle with anxiety. The difference between the two is the behaviors involved. Anxiety deals with thinking about the future in an apprehensive manner, whereas depression involves thinking about the future in a pessimistic manner. When the offending behaviors are identified and successfully addressed, they cease causing anxiety and depressive problems.

This research is just one more piece in a long line that have all pinpointed behavior as the cause of problematic anxiety and depression.

Their research was recently published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology ((Friday 11 June 2015).


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The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.


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