The relationship between social reinforcement and performance for individuals with depressive symptoms

Author: Anderson, Scott

Date: 2019

Publisher: University of Otago

Type: Thesis

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University of Otago


Depression is associated with a reduced sensitivity to positive reinforcement. Research suggests this is due to an impaired response to historically rewarding stimuli. However, little experimental research has looked at the effect of social reinforcement on depressed individuals. The present study explored this relationship by examining how positive social feedback affected the performance of depressed individuals on a subsequent written task. Participants received either neutral or positive social feedback in response to an initial paragraph, before being asked to write a second paragraph. Performance was measured by the time to submit their written work and the number of words they had written. Results showed individuals with higher levels of depressive symptoms took longer to complete the written tasks compared to non-depressed individuals, suggesting performance deficits in initiation and time management of tasks. However, there was no significant difference in word quantity between participants in the depression group and the non-depression group, indicating their completed tasks were of a similar level of quality. For the results pertaining to social reinforcers explicitly, there was a suggestive relationship between positive feedback and the performance of participants in the depression group; participants in the depression group who received positive feedback submitted their tasks within a similar timeframe to non-depressed participants, whereas those who received neutral feedback had longer submission times. Positive social reinforcers may have the potential to improve the efficiency and time management skills of depressed individuals. Further research should pursue this observation because it may uncover significant findings relating to social feedback and performance in depression. This could further aid the efficiency of depressed individuals’ performance in many aspects of their lives, particularly within the work setting.

Subjects: depression, reinforcement, social reinforcement

Citation: ["Anderson, S. (2019). The relationship between social reinforcement and performance for individuals with depressive symptoms (Thesis, Master of Science). University of Otago. Retrieved from"]

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