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Thursday 20th October 2016

Depression: The perception of time

26th April 2013

A recent study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has suggested that feelings of helplessness and lack of control may be caused by subtle changes in the way those with depression perceive time and process their surroundings.

An experiment by psychology researchers Dr Rachel Msetfi from the University of Limerick and Dr Robin Murphy at the University of Oxford, used a computer-based task to explore how a series of volunteers, some with depression and others without, responded to simple tasks in which they had varying levels of control.
Their findings support other studies which suggest that people with depression experience time as passing more slowly; they also tend to process cues from their environment and context differently to people without depression. In this study, the volunteers with depression responded differently to the other volunteers, with judgements that were more realistic.
"When depressed people have more time to process information about cause and effect, due to their slower perception of time they tend to take more notice of their environment which is often beyond their control, hence their feelings of helplessness," says Msetfi.
"We see that contrary to the cognitive theory of depression, which emphasises the effects of irrational thought, here very subtle changes in perceptions have a strong knock on effect on other cognitive processes and feelings of control."
Msetfi also suggests that her research may also help to explain why mindfulness therapy is so successful in treating depression and preventing relapse.

"Mindfulness is about paying more attention to what is happening right now. If time moves more slowly for people with depression and makes them oversensitive to their surroundings, mindfulness may work because it recalibrates their perceptions to find a better balance."

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