Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 41, Issue 5, pp 757–776 | Cite as

Out-of-the-Blue: Depressive Symptoms are Associated with Deficits in Processing Inferential Expectancy-Violations Using a Novel Cognitive Rigidity Task

  • Paul LiknaitzkyEmail author
  • Luke D. Smillie
  • Nicholas B. Allen
Original Article


Rigid cognition is frequently cited as a plausible maintenance or risk factor for depression. However, most performance-based measures of cognitive rigidity associated with depression offer poor ecological validity, produce mixed findings, and afford little in the way of therapeutic application. In order to establish a more useful and relevant performance-based measure of cognitive rigidity in depression, we developed a novel task that probes a rigidity process using stimuli highly relevant to the level of construal, the thematic content, and the rhetorical mode of depressotypic thinking. The task consists of a set of narrative vignettes that contain an expectancy-violation that is incompatible with an initially-established interpretation. As hypothesized, depressive symptoms were associated with reduced ability to update interpretations. This finding was independent of the valence of the expectancy-violation (i.e., was not merely a negativity bias), and was significant after controlling for basic set-shifting ability, intelligence measures, working memory, and other potential confounds. The novel Contingent Inference Task is a promising approach that may probe a more ecologically and etiologically relevant form of cognitive rigidity in depression than other related performance-based rigidity tasks. This rigidity process may underlie the persistence of biased beliefs in depression, and represent a new therapeutic target.


Depression Cognitive rigidity Inference Prediction-error Expectancy-violation 



Thanks to Mark Yates and Melissa Latham for reading earlier versions of the manuscript.


Funding was provided by Department of Human Services, State Government of Victoria (Grant No. ID0EEOAE1654).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Paul Liknaitzky, Luke D. Smillie, and Nicholas B. Allen declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Animal Rights

No animal studies were carried out by the authors for this article.

Supplementary material

10608_2017_9853_MOESM1_ESM.docx (50 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 49 KB)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Melbourne School of Psychological SciencesThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyThe University of OregonEugeneUSA

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