Two pathways to causal control: use and availability of information in the environment in people with and without signs of depression.
Byrom NC., Msetfi RM., Murphy RA.
Perceiving one's causal control is important for adaptive behavior. Studying depression and other individual differences has provided insight into typical as well as pathological causal processing. We set out to study factors that have been shown to distinguish those with and without signs of depression and affect perceptions of causal control: levels of behavior, the availability of outcomes and learning about the environment or context. Two experiments were carried out in which participants, scoring low and high on the Beck Depression Inventory using established cutoffs, completed a causal control task, in which outcomes occurred with a low (.25) or high probability (.75). Behavior levels were either constrained (N1=73) or unconstrained (N2=74). Overall, findings showed that levels of behavior influenced people's experiences of the context in which events occurred. For all participants, very high behavior levels eliminated sensitivity to levels of outcomes occurring in the environment and lead to judgments that were consistent with conditional probabilities as opposed to the experimenter programmed contingency. Thus increased behavior increased perceived control via influence on context experience. This effect was also evident for those scoring high on the BDI. Overall conclusions are that behavior and context provide two important interlinked psychological pathways to perceived control. However, situations that constrain people's ability to respond freely can prevent people with signs of depression from taking control of a situation that would otherwise be uncontrollable.