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Defining cues for instrumental causality are the temporal, spatial and contingency relationships between actions and their effects. In this study, we carried out a series of causal learning experiments that systematically manipulated time and context in positive and negative contingency conditions. In addition, we tested participants categorized as non-dysphoric and mildly dysphoric because depressed mood has been shown to affect the processing of all these causal cues. Findings showed that causal judgements made by non-dysphoric participants were contextualized at baseline and were affected by the temporal spacing of actions and effects only with generative, but not preventative, contingency relationships. Participants categorized as dysphoric made less contextualized causal ratings at baseline but were more sensitive than others to temporal manipulations across the contingencies. These effects were consistent with depression affecting causal learning through the effects of slowed time experience on accrued exposure to the context in which causal events took place. Taken together, these findings are consistent with associative approaches to causal judgement.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Adult, Affect, Humans, Learning, Young Adult