Associations of negative affective biases and depressive symptoms in a community-based sample

Laura de Nooij, Mark J Adams, Emma L Hawkins, Liana Romaniuk, Marcus R Munafò, Ian S Penton-Voak, Rebecca Elliott, Amy R Bland, Gordon D Waiter, Anca-Larisa Sandu, Tina Habota, J Douglas Steele, Alison D Murray, Archie Campbell, David J Porteous, Andrew M McIntosh, Heather C Whalley, Generation Scotland

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BACKGROUND: Major depressive disorder (MDD) was previously associated with negative affective biases. Evidence from larger population-based studies, however, is lacking, including whether biases normalise with remission. We investigated associations between affective bias measures and depressive symptom severity across a large community-based sample, followed by examining differences between remitted individuals and controls.

METHODS: Participants from Generation Scotland (N = 1109) completed the: (i) Bristol Emotion Recognition Task (BERT), (ii) Face Affective Go/No-go (FAGN), and (iii) Cambridge Gambling Task (CGT). Individuals were classified as MDD-current (n = 43), MDD-remitted (n = 282), or controls (n = 784). Analyses included using affective bias summary measures (primary analyses), followed by detailed emotion/condition analyses of BERT and FAGN (secondary analyses).

RESULTS: For summary measures, the only significant finding was an association between greater symptoms and lower risk adjustment for CGT across the sample (individuals with greater symptoms were less likely to bet more, despite increasingly favourable conditions). This was no longer significant when controlling for non-affective cognition. No differences were found for remitted-MDD v. controls. Detailed analysis of BERT and FAGN indicated subtle negative biases across multiple measures of affective cognition with increasing symptom severity, that were independent of non-effective cognition [e.g. greater tendency to rate faces as angry (BERT), and lower accuracy for happy/neutral conditions (FAGN)]. Results for remitted-MDD were inconsistent.

CONCLUSIONS: This suggests the presence of subtle negative affective biases at the level of emotion/condition in association with depressive symptoms across the sample, over and above those accounted for by non-affective cognition, with no evidence for affective biases in remitted individuals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Medicine
Early online date21 Sept 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgements. We thank professor Jonathan Roiser (University College London, UK) and professor emeritus Ian Deary (University of Edinburgh, UK) for their input on task selection and statistical analysis. We also acknowledge all researchers who have contributed to the collection of data for the current study. Most importantly, we would like to thank all participants of Generation Scotland, and particularly those of the STRADL subcohort, for their participation in the research.
Financial support. Stratifying Resilience and Depression Longitudinally is supported by the Wellcome Trust through a Strategic Award (Grant No. 104036/Z/14/Z) and through an Investigator Award (Grant No. 220857/Z/ 20/Z). The Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health Department (Grant No. CZD/16/6), Scottish Funding Council (Grant No. HR03006) and Wellcome Trust (Grant No. 216767/Z/19/Z) provided core support for Generation Scotland.


  • affective cognition
  • emotion recognition
  • facial processing
  • major depressive disorder
  • negative bias


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