Traits for depression related to agentic and external control
Castiello S., Senan S., Msetfi RM., Murphy R.
Depression has been linked to weakened perceptions of control. The experimental evidence derives from tasks with exposure to stable action-outcome contingencies. One assumption has been that performance represents a general cognitive bias that might manifest itself by a global performance difference. Another view is that people have specific situational perceptions of control reflecting their recent actions and the contingencies to which they are currently experiencing. In an experiment with N = 179, participants acquired one of four action-outcome sequences (Constant or Variable). We measured how learning was reflected in ratings of control and probability of responding in relation to mood. In three experimental treatments, the overall contingency across training involved an average moderate degree of control (∆P = 0.25), but differed in how control varied (Constant or one of two Variable treatments). A fourth, control treatment involved a Constant zero degree of control (∆P = 0.00). Participants rated their control before, during and after each sequence, providing measures of pre-existing bias, ratings of control in specific situations and generalised control perceptions. Specific control ratings were only influenced by the contingency experience and not pre-existing bias. Higher scores on the Beck’s depression inventory were associated with weakened association between action and context ratings. Overall, these data suggest that human agency is related to rates of responding and that mood is related to a difference in sensitivity to the ratings of and responding to the context.