Is depression associated with reduced optimistic belief updating?

Catherine Hobbs, Petra Vozarova, Aarushi Sabharwal, Punit Shah, Katherine Button

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (SciVal)


When asked to evaluate their probability of experiencing a negative life event, healthy individuals update their beliefs more following good news than bad. This is referred to as optimistic belief updating. By contrast, individuals with depression update their beliefs by a similar amount, showing reduced optimism. We conducted the first independent replication of this effect and extended this work to examine whether reduced optimistic belief updating in depression also occurs for positive life events. Replicating previous research, healthy and depression groups differed in belief updating for negative events (β = 0.71, 95% CI: 0.24, 1.18). Whereas healthy participants updated their beliefs more following good news than bad, individuals experiencing depression lacked this bias. However, our findings for positive events were inconclusive. While we did not find statistical evidence that patterns of belief updating between groups varied by valence (β = -0.51, 95% CI: -1.16, 0.15), mean update scores suggested that both groups showed largely similar updating for positive life events. Our results add confidence to previous findings that depression is characterized by negative future expectations maintained by reduced updating in response to good news. However, further research is required to understand the specificity of this to negative events, and into refining methods for quantifying belief updating in clinical and non-clinical research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number190814
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number2
Early online date2 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by a GW4 BioMed MRC Doctoral Training Partnership award to Catherine Hobbs. Acknowledgements


  • belief updating
  • cognitive biases
  • depression
  • optimism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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