Effort deficits and depression: The influence of anhedonic depressive symptoms on cardiac autonomic activity during a mental challenge

Paul J. Silvia, Emily C. Nusbaum, Kari M. Eddington, Roger E. Beaty, Thomas R. Kwapil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations

Abstract

Motivational approaches to depression emphasize the role of dysfunctional motivational dynamics, particularly diminished reward and incentive processes associated with anhedonia. A study examined how anhedonic depressive symptoms, measured continuously across a wide range of severity, influenced the physiological mobilization of effort during a cognitive task. Using motivational intensity theory as a guide, we expected that the diminished incentive value associated with anhedonic depressive symptoms would reduce effort during a “do your best” challenge (also known as an unfixed or self-paced challenge), in which effort is a function of the value of achieving the task’s goal. Using impedance cardiography, two cardiac autonomic responses were assessed: pre-ejection period (PEP), a measure of sympathetic activity and our primary measure of interest, and respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), a measure of parasympathetic activity. As expected, PEP slowed from baseline to task as anhedonic depressive symptoms increased (as measured with the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale), indicating diminished effort-related sympathetic activity. No significant effects appeared for RSA. The findings support motivational intensity theory as a translational model of effort processes in depression and clarify some inconsistent effects of depressive symptoms on effort-related physiology found in past work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)779-789
Number of pages11
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Volume38
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 7 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

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