General comments on bias research

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The findings from studies of cognitive biases in depressed and normal moods show that there are a number of effects. Perhaps the strongest evidence for bias in depression comes from work on explicit memory including word-list and autobiographical memory tasks. However, these studies emphasise that the clearest biases are obtained in the processing of self-related negative material rather than any negative material. The fact that findings for biases in implicit memory tasks have been less consistent

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Figure 7.8 Conditions under which normal positively biased individuals are more likely to be accurate, versus those under which negatively biased individuals should be more accurate.

probably indicates that the mechanisms involved in such biases are more poorly understood, in particular in the way in which mood and other factors combine. This problem also seems to have been evident in studies of attentional biases in depression, where there is evidence both for and against bias. Again, it must be emphasised that factors such as the personal relevance of the materials have not been properly taken into account in many of the studies. The problem also arises of whether evidence of a positive bias in normal individuals and of apparent "even-handedness" in depressed individuals should be interpreted as evidence for depressive realism or for depressive negative bias. As we argued above, under certain circumstances biases lead to accurate or realistic responses; thus, conclusions of even-handedness in depression and positive bias in normal individuals should, in our view, be seen as evidence for a negative bias in depression. This recommendation applies not only to the contingency judgement studies of Alloy, Abramson, and colleagues, but also to studies of attentional bias.

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