Depression and Self-Reinforcement in a Public and a Private Setting

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pretreatment with failure manipulation & high vs low success rate in public vs private situation, self reinforcement in skill task, depressed vs nondepressed college students

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Depressed undergraduates (determined by the Beck Depression Inventory), nondepressed undergraduates, and nondepressed undergraduates pretreated with an insolvable-problems (failure) manipulation were compared on self-reinforcement during a 22-trial skill task. Success rate was controlled, all Ss receiving either an initially high rate of success followed by a low one or an initially low rate of success followed by a high one. Ss responded in either a public (experimenter present) or a private (unobserved and anonymous) condition. Measures of self-reinforcement revealed differences among the groups' responses across the public–private conditions, suggesting greater support for predictions derived from an interpersonal view of depression than for predictions from current cognitive theories of depression. Moreover, it was found that within the high–low sequence, depressed-private Ss reinforced themselves at a significantly higher level than nondepressed-private Ss, a finding at odds with predictions derived from cognitive theories.

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Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, v. 42, issue 2, p. 377-385