Clinically depressed people are less competent at discriminating between negative emotions like anger, shame and guilt, according to a new study.
A new study, published in the journal Psychological Science, shows that because depressed people frequently experience feelings of sadness, anger, fear or frustration that interfere with everyday life, their negative feelings may make them less able to distinguish between different types of negative emotions compared to healthy individuals.
Researchers from the latest study also suggest that the ability to identify and distinguish between negative emotions can help individuals address problems that led to those emotions in the first place. Researchers explain that while some people can tell the difference between someone feeling angry or guilty, others may not be able to separate the two, adding that distinguishing between anger and frustration is even more difficult.
Lead researcher Emre Demiralp of the University of Michigan said that being unable to differentiate certain emotions from each other might lead a person to choose an action that is inappropriate, thus exacerbating the problem.
"It is difficult to improve your life without knowing whether you are sad or angry about some aspect of it," Demiralp said in a statement. "For example, imagine not having a gauge independently indicating the gasoline level of your car. It would be challenging to know when to stop for gas."
"We wanted to investigate whether people with clinical depression had emotional gauges that were informative and whether they experienced emotions with the same level of specificity and differentiation as healthy people," Demiralp said.
The latest study involved 106 people between the ages of 18 and 40. Half of the participants were diagnosed with clinical depression, and half were not. Researchers asked participants to carry a Palm Pilot for seven to eight days and to record their emotions at 56 random times each day.
Participants were asked to indicate how they felt based on seven negative emotions (sad, anxious, angry, frustrated, ashamed, disgusted or guilty) and four positive emotions (happy, excited, alert or active) on a scale from one, indicating not at all, to four, representing a great deal.
Researchers found that when depressed participants experienced two emotions at the same time, they found it more difficult to distinguish between negative emotions compared to positive emotions. However, researchers found that both depressed and non-depressed participants were equally able to differentiate between positive emotions.