Depression is all-encompassing in its effects on the mind and body. Not only does it make someone feel a deep sense of dread, sadness, and hopelessness, it also impedes other processes in the brain. One of these processes is the ability to make decisions, and a new study finds that the reason for this could be because depression takes away a person’s intuition.

Every one of us has some level of intuition, or the ability to come to conclusions within seconds, unconsciously, without thinking. It’s that feeling that something is just right, or wrong, without having any concrete reasons for such beliefs. Intuition is at the base of every decision; by unconsciously referring to previous lessons we’ve learned, we’re able to decide which path is the right one. It makes sense then, that people with depression are unable to tap into it. After all, they’re trying each and every day to find a way to get better — even when they see no hope — but without the ability to feel what their best course of action is, they’re left in a downward spiral.  

For the study, researcher Carina Remmers and her team from the University of Hildesheim in Germany recruited 29 participants with major depression and 27 without it. They completed the Judgement of Semantic Coherence Task, a psychological assessment of intuition that asks participants to determine whether groups of three words, such as “salt,” “foam,” and “deep,” relate by meaning to another single word. In this case, the word would have been “sea.”

If participants said the words were linked to a single one within three-and-a-half seconds, they were given another eight seconds to figure the word out. They were considered to have good intuition if they either found the word or said simply that they knew it was related, but not how. The researchers found that there was no difference between the two groups when it came to correctly identifying the related singular words, or even not responding at all. But when it came to intuitively believing the words were related, the healthy subjects beat out the depressed ones, according to Research Digest, a blog of the British Psychological Society.

Aside from having lower intuition, the researchers also found that patients with depression were much more likely to ruminate. By thinking too analytically into why others don’t have similar problems, their decision-making skills become impaired, and creative thinking gets stifled. The findings give the researchers, and practitioners new insight into the inner-workings of the depressive mind, and offer new routes for therapeutic treatment.

Source: Remmers C, Topolinski S, Dietrich D, Michalak J. Impaired intuition in patients with major depressive disorder. British Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2014.