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When all glasses look half empty: a computational model of reference dependent evaluation to explain depression

Rigoli, F. ORCID: 0000-0003-2233-934X (2022). When all glasses look half empty: a computational model of reference dependent evaluation to explain depression. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, doi: 10.1080/20445911.2022.2107650


Computational proposals argue that impairments in evaluation are central to depression. At the same time, contemporary theories of evaluation highlight its reference dependent nature: when attributing value to an outcome, our brain automatically assesses the outcome relative to its context. Yet, reference dependent processes underlying evaluation remain to be explored in the context of depression. To fill this gap, here we develop a computational model of reference dependent evaluation to explain the disorder. The model proposes that early-life stress (combined with genetic predispositions) impairs the ability to adjust to environmental changes. After experiencing stress later in life, such inability to adapt would result in excessive standards to which life outcomes are compared. This model explains diverse affective aberrations observed in the disorder, including low mood, poor self-esteem, reduced controllability, and blunted emotional reactivity. Our proposal raises the possibility that abnormal reference dependent evaluation might be a critical process underlying depression.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2022 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
Publisher Keywords: Depression, reference dependent, computational model, reference point, stress
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
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 Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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