To what degree is response to negative feedback state-related? Could the effects of antidepressants on cognitive function in patients with depression be due to effects on negative cognitive biases?

Answered by Catherine Harmer

Abnormal response to negative feedback is specifically associated with depression, meaning that patients with depression tend to show worse performance on cognitive tests after receiving negative feedback, and this performance is lower than in patients with other conditions where overall performance is impaired (such as Parkinson’s disease or schizophrenia). This suggests that receiving negative feedback can particularly affect how patients with depression perform on a cognitive task and illustrates the potential for negative biases, even on ‘cold’ cognitive task performance. Although abnormal response to negative feedback is most commonly investigated in patients with depression, there is some recent evidence that risk factors for depression (in this case, serotonin transporter genotype and childhood adversities) can also lead to the same pattern.1 This suggests that the abnormal response to negative feedback may not be purely state (or mood) related but involved in predisposition to depression.


Antidepressants can reduce negative biases in both depressed patients and healthy control individuals. These effects would be predicted to also improve aspects of ‘cold’ cognitive function by reducing the potential for negative response to failure. However, it is currently unclear to what extent the effects of antidepressants on ‘cold’ cognition are mediated by changes in emotional factors and this is the subject of on-going research.

  1. Owens M, Goodyer IM, Wilkinson P, Bhardwaj A, Abbott R, Croudace T, Dunn V, Jones PB, Walsh ND, Ban M, Sahakian BJ. 5-HTTLPR and early childhood adversities moderate cognitive and emotional processing in adolescence. PLoS One 2012; 7: e48482.
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