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Probability bias is an independent correlate of depressive symptoms

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People high in depressive symptoms show probability bias: they think negative events are relatively likely, especially compared with positive events. However, their past- and future-related thinking also has other distinctive characteristics, so we wondered how independent probability bias is from these other phenomena. In two samples of Turkish students (Ns = 163 and 179), we found that depressive symptoms were the strongest predictor of probability bias even when rumination, intrusive future imagery, overgeneral memory and anxiety were controlled in our models; furthermore, probability bias remained a significant predictor of depression when these other variables were controlled. These results suggest that a relatively negative probability bias is an independent correlate of depressive symptoms, and is not simply confounded with other past- or future thinking-related phenomena that have been observed in more depressed individuals. We hope that future individual differences and clinical research will focus more on depression-related probability bias.

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We are grateful to Bahar Gaser and Ecem Erkol for their assistance with coding the data.


No funding was received for conducting this study.

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Correspondence to Robert W. Booth.

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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.

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Events used for assessing probability bias in both studies. These are approximate English translations; please contact the authors for the original Turkish items.

Positive items

You will become very rich.

You will greatly enjoy your next holiday or trip.

Your friends will always be there for you when you need them.

You will be successful in your next venture or goal.

You will be well-known for an important achievement.

You will be well received at your next party or social event.

At your next check-up, your doctor will say you are in good physical health.

You will have a wonderful 90th birthday.

Tomorrow will be a wonderful day for you.

You would win the lottery if you played regularly.

You will be fit and healthy into old age.

You will go a whole year without getting ill.

Negative items

You will be the victim of a violent crime.

You will embarrass yourself at the next party or social event you attend.

You will be involved in a serious traffic accident in the next 5 years.

You will lose or seriously damage your mobile phone in the next year.

You will be seriously injured in a natural disaster.

You will have a serious disagreement with your family in the next month.

You will lose someone you love in the next year.

Your best friend will become bored with you, and start spending more time with their other friends.

You will be mistreated by someone in a position of authority.

You will be diagnosed with a serious physical illness.

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Booth, R.W., Aydin, C., Ulupunar, E. et al. Probability bias is an independent correlate of depressive symptoms. Motiv Emot 47, 638–649 (2023).

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