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The development of depressive encoding dispositions: A case of self-perpetuation of biases

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/0022-1031(91)90033-3


Abstract Previous research has demonstrated that stimuli can be encoded as supportive of preexisting encoding categories, even if the categories do not match the stimuli perfectly. Such biased encoding may become a source of a perceiver's subjective experiences that are supportive of the preexisting encoding rules. Via this mechanism, encoding rules may develop in a self-perpetuating manner, even in the absence of any objectively supportive evidence. It is proposed in the present research that in depressed individuals the process of self-perpetuation can contribute to the maintenance and development of encoding categories that involve negative information, thus perpetuating “depressive” encoding. In the learning phase of the study, subjects were exposed to a series of stimulus persons containing a nonsalient covariation between a facial feature and either a negative or positive characteristic. In the testing phase, subjects rated a sequence of new faces which did not contain any information supportive of the covariation. As predicted, the influence of the newly acquired encoding rule (covariation) on subjects' judgments gradually increased over time, and this effect was more pronounced for the negative characteristic in individuals with above median depression (Beck Depression Inventory) scores. These results suggest a mechanism by which depressive encoding rules may self-perpetuate.

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