The effect of abstract versus concrete thinking on decision-making in depression


Abstract thinking is characteristic of depressed individuals, as is the tendency to experience difficulties with decision-making. This thesis investigated whether: (i) abstract thinking is associated with decision-making problems, and (ii) inducing a converse more adaptive style of thinking, namely concrete thinking, could lead to more constructive outcomes in the decision-making process. Study 1 first compared the extent to which high dysphoric and low dysphoric individuals naturally engaged in abstract thinking while completing decision-making tasks. As predicted, high dysphoric participants demonstrated more abstract thinking and worse outcomes on decision-making measures indexed before and after they made decisions about both personal and hypothetical scenarios. Studies 2 to 6 then tested the prediction that in comparison to concrete thinking, abstract thinking leads to worse outcomes across a number of stages of decision-making. Study 2 tested the length of time taken for participants who received either an abstract or concrete thinking induction to complete an online writing task that they were instructed to complete as early as possible. Depressive symptoms were associated with longer task completion time in the abstract condition; no such relationship was observed in the concrete condition. Studies 3 and 4 then tested the relative effects of abstract versus concrete thinking on the likelihood of committing to proactive choice options. In both studies, high dysphoric participants demonstrated greater levels of behavioural proactivity following a concrete thinking induction as compared to an abstract thinking induction. Study 5 and 6 tested whether thinking abstractly about a decision that one had previously made but regretted led to higher levels of post-decisional regret compared to thinking about the decision in a concrete manner. Study 5 found that abstract thinking led to higher levels of post-decisional regret than concrete thinking. Study 6 replicated these findings and additionally yielded post-hoc evidence to suggest that abstract thinking increases post-decisional regret by encouraging more upward counterfactual thoughts, as compared to concrete thinking. Together these studies indicate that abstract thinking could play an important role in contributing to decision-making problems in depression, and raise the clinical possibility that encouraging depressed individuals to engage in concrete thinking could alleviate these problems

    Similar works