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The Half-Empty/Full Glass in Mental Health: A Reference-Dependent Computational Model of Evaluation in Psychopathology

Rigoli, F. ORCID: 0000-0003-2233-934X, Martinelli, C. & Pezzulo, G. (2021). The Half-Empty/Full Glass in Mental Health: A Reference-Dependent Computational Model of Evaluation in Psychopathology. Clinical Psychological Science, 9(6), pp. 1021-1034. doi: 10.1177/2167702621998344


Evaluation (the process attributing value to outcomes) underlies “hot” aspects of cognition, such as emotion, affect, and motivation. In several psychopathologies, such as depression and addiction, impairments in evaluation are critical. Contemporary theories highlight the reference-dependent nature of evaluation, whereby outcomes are evaluated relative to their context. Surprisingly, reference-dependent evaluation remains to be explored in the context of psychopathology. We offer a computational theory of how impaired reference-dependent evaluation might underlie mental illness. The theory proposes that evaluation derives from comparing an outcome against a reference point parameter and by weighting any discrepancy by an uncertainty parameter. Maladaptive evaluation is proposed to occur when these parameters do not reflect the true context statistics. Depending on which parameter is altered, different forms of maladaptive evaluation emerge, each associated with specific clinical conditions. This model highlights how the concept of reference-dependent evaluation can elucidate several clinical conditions, including perfectionism, depression, and addiction.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article has been published in Clinical Psychological Science (SAGE), DOI: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed.
Publisher Keywords: psychopathology, reference effects, mental illness, reference point
Subjects: R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

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