Impairments in episodic future thinking for positive events and anticipatory pleasure in major depression

D. J. Hallford, T. J. Barry, D. W. Austin, F. Raes, K. Takano, B. Klein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (SciVal)


Background: Characteristic of the cardinal symptom of anhedonia, people with clinical depression report lower levels of anticipatory pleasure. However, the psychological mechanisms underlying these deficits are poorly understood. This is the first study to assess whether, and to what extent, phenomenological characteristics of episodic future thinking for positive future events are associated with anticipatory pleasure among depressed individuals. Methods: Individuals with a Major Depressive Episode (MDE; N = 117) and without (N = 47) completed ratings scales for depressive symptoms and trait anticipatory and consummatory pleasure. They then provided descriptions of personally-relevant positive future events and rated them for phenomenological characteristics and state anticipatory pleasure. Results: Between-groups analysis showed that those with MDE reported lower trait anticipatory and consummatory pleasure. They also simulated future events with less specificity, less detail/vividness, less use of mental imagery, less use of first-person perspective, less plausibility/perceived likelihood of occurring, and reported less associated state anticipatory pleasure. In regression analyses in the depressed group, lower scores for detail/vividness, mental imagery, and personal significance all uniquely predicted lower state anticipatory pleasure. Limitations: Cognitive functioning was not assessed, which may help clarify deficits that underpin these findings. History of previous depressive episodes in the comparison group were not assessed, which may mean the observed between-group effects are underestimated. Conclusions: This study provides further evidence of deficits in episodic future thinking and anticipatory pleasure in depressed individuals. It also establishes links between particular characteristics of episodic future thinking and state anticipatory pleasure, and indicates cognitive targets that may be amenable to intervention in order to reduce anhedonia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)536-543
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier B.V.


  • Anhedonia
  • Anticipatory pleasure
  • Depression
  • Episodic future thinking
  • Episodic specificity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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