Archive for the ‘Folk psychology’ Category

Depressed people see the world more accurately

October 2, 2008

I have heard this notion thrown about by otherwise reputable psychologists. I remain skeptical. It is of course a generalisation, but it is often spoken of as though it were universally true in all situations. It is now part of folk psychology under the heading ‘depressive realism’. I have seen no empirical evidence for the claim, only highly-speculative conclusions drawn from limited observations of people in an artificial laboratory environment.

The answer to the question ‘how ought we see the world’ is only addressed by psychology in particular, quantitatively-measureable situations; not in the general, big-picture sense. (The latter is more a question for philosophy). There is no evidence at all that depressives see the world in general more accurately. The contrary would seem more likely, intuitively and inferentially. By way of inference, consider that depressives’ predictions of meaningful life events may actually be unrealistically optimistic more so than those of non-depressives (see link below).

Now let us consider the interesting case of The Dalai Lama. The DL, as a Buddhist, sees life as suffering – a rather depressing viewpoint. Yet, he seems to be one of the happiest people on earth and most wise. Considering the ‘depressive realism’ hypothesis we are forced to ask the following question: does the DL see the world accurately because he has a depressing view of life, or does he see the world inaccurately because he’s happy? This question is nonsensical because it is based on silly premises (like so many philosophical questions!). The (objective) accuracy of one’s view of the world is not ultimately determined by the happiness or depression of one’s views and moods. You can be naively happy or realistically depressed, and vice-versa.

It is incredible that the some psychologists can draw such profound conclusions from such limited and ambiguous data!

Further reading: Probing the puzzling workings of ‘depressive realism’