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When Your Vision of the Past is Not 20/20

Senior man with head in hands


It turns out that when you are struggling with depression, hindsight is one of the ways your perception is limited.

Hindsight is 20/20 right? Not so it seems if you are depressed. It turns out that when you are struggling with depression, hindsight is one of the ways your perception is limited.

It’s been shown repeatedly that individuals suffering from depression have some clear tendencies in the way they view the world. Their bleak view of the present and the future is characterized by a lack of feeling any control toward outcomes and a pervasive sense of helplessness.

Recent research from psychologists at UK’s University of Portsmouth published their findings in the journal Clinical Psychological Science. They looked at the phenomenon known as ‘hindsight bias’, which characterizes the way we think about the past once we know the outcome. Participants in the study were university students, with half of them measuring somewhere on the depression scale.

In measuring their hindsight bias, they looked at 3 specific measures of perception: their ability to be able to know what was going to happen, the likelihood that the outcome was inevitable, and what their expectations were for the event before it occurred.

They found that students with mild to severe depression showed an increasing tendency to see negative events as foreseeable and inevitable. Interestingly, this did not apply for positive events. They also incorrectly remembered the expectations they had for the event.

The authors of this study recognize that this is a first step in understanding the connection between depression and hindsight bias, and that more studies need to be done to get a fuller understanding into how this phenomenon plays into the downward cycle of depression and thinking patterns.

The past can teach us many valuable lessons, but if we only see the past through a lens of hopelessness and lack of control, it can be challenging to see any worthwhile takeaways. Instead, we are left with a feeling of ineptitude for how we failed to make the right decisions for ourselves. Increasing our understanding of how depression feeds itself with certain thinking styles will hopefully open doors to a brighter future for those who are suffering from depression.

Kalia Kelmenson

Kalia Kelmenson is the founder of Maui Mind and Body, a curator of well-being, and has worked and played in the health and wellness field for over twenty years. She works with clients at the intersection of mind-body well-being, and shares inspiration for wellness practices from the research emerging from this intriguing field. She is the former editorial director of Spirituality & Health.

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DepressionThe BrainStudiesEmotions

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