Positive fantasies may lead to depression

Tuesday, Feb 2, 2016,15:09 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

New York | Positive fantasies about how future events will turn out might boost your mood now but may actually lead to increased depressive symptoms in the long run, a new study has claimed. In a series of four studies, researchers from New York University (NYU) found that the more positively participants fantasised about the future, the fewer depressive symptoms they showed at that moment but the more symptoms they showed at a follow-up session.

The pattern of results emerged when the researchers tested both adults and children and over follow-up periods that ranged from 1 month up to 7 months after the initial session. For the study, researchers asked 88 undergraduate students to imagine themselves in 12 different open-ended scenarios. The students were given a prompt for the scenario and were told to imagine how the scenarios would play out.

The participants wrote down whatever thoughts and images came to mind and rated how positive and how negative these fantasies were. They found that the college students who came up with more positive fantasies had lower scores on a scale measuring depressive symptoms that is, at that moment, they seemed to be less depressed than their peers.

However, when the students completed the scale again one month later, they showed higher depressive symptoms relative to students who had imagined more negative scenarios. Researchers saw similar results in a study they conducted with 109 fourth- and fifth-graders, finding that children who reported more positive fantasies had fewer symptoms at the initial session but more symptoms 7 months later in comparison to children who reported more negative fantasies.

Additional findings indicate that individual effort may help to explain the link between positive fantasies and depressive symptoms. College students who reported positive fantasies tended to report putting less effort into their coursework; this was, in turn, associated with lower grades and higher depression scores. Our findings suggest that as pleasurable and helpful as positive fantasies are for depressive mood in the moment, they can be problematic and cumbersome over time, said Gabriele Oettingen from NYU who led the study.

Our findings raise questions of how costly this market may be for people’s long-term well-being and for society as a whole, Oettingen said. Investing in positive fantasies may prevent us from acknowledging the obstacles that stand in the way of reaching our goals and undertaking strategies to surmount them, researchers said. Positive fantasies must be complemented with a good sense of reality, Oettingen said.

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