What is it about?

The feeling of being in control and responsible for our actions plays an important role in daily decision-making processes, which are commonly disturbed in mental health disorders. It has been previously reported that a strong sense of control was associated with overall wellbeing whereas reduced control had an association with higher helplessness and negative emotionality. To better understand these relationships, especially in people with depressive and anxious disorders, we created a new test that measures how people perceive their control over outcomes, when faced with positive and negative monetary feedback. We found that people felt more in control when they received positive feedback, and this effect was weaker in people with depression and anxiety. We also found that feeling less in control after negative feedback was associated with feeling less pleasure in life. Overall, this research helps us understand how feelings of control relate to reward processing and how this can be impacted in depression and anxiety.

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Why is it important?

There is some evidence from survey data that people with anxiety and depression tend to feel like they have less control over what happens to them, especially if they had gone through difficult experiences or had more severe depression symptoms. One study showed that individuals who experienced less control as teenagers were more likely to have worse depression later in life. It was surprising that more evidence is not available on how people's sense of control over their own actions affects their behavior when they have anxiety or depression. A more thorough investigation of aberrations in feelings of control across mental health disorders using a more objective measure can be helpful in developing more relevant treatment modalities.

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This page is a summary of: Reward-related self-agency is disturbed in depression and anxiety, PLoS ONE, March 2023, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0282727.
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