Objective. The current study will evaluate tasks examining tenets of reward devaluation theory and their ability to predict psychological distress and functioning over time among a sample of individuals with normal-to- abnormal symptoms of psychopathology. The current application is significant and innovative, and has great promise of experimental therapeutics translation. Background. Depression is the leading cause of disability for people aged 15 to 44, with high costs to public health. There is thus a great need for research on underlying predictors that help to better guide treatment interventions. Reward Devaluation Theory is a theoretical framework outlining candidate experimental indicators of avoidance of positivity that may represent core disturbances of Positive Valence Systems, which are commonly abnormal among depressed persons. Reward devaluation theory may yield significant advances in the ability to conceptualize positive valence systems disturbance and the ultimate prediction of treatment response in depression. Significance. One of the largest set of meta-analytic findings supporting reward devaluation theory indicates that individuals with depression devalue reward and that this is a discriminant finding that is not present in anxious individuals and is not present when examining responses to negative stimuli among individuals with psychopathology. Innovation. Reward devaluation theory thus provides a highly innovative framework for interpreting an endophenotypic predictor of positive valence systems disturbance indicated by depressive symptoms. Avoidance (i.e., devaluation, not just lack of valuation) of reward is an underinvestigated phenomenon that has been uncovered by the PI and his research team, and the theoretical framework and set of findings we have provided support our novel theoretical concept derived from scientifically rigorous analyses.
Specific Aims. The aims of the proposed project are to determine what task parameters best frame this target and how reward devaluation unfolds over periods of time that allow for the ebb and flow of depressive symptoms. Approach. A longitudinal study will examine reward devaluation in a sample with normal-to-abnormal symptom profiles. Participants will be assessed at baseline, at six months, and at one year. Multilevel linear modeling will be used to analyze the data. Expected Results. Tasks that assess reward will predict symptoms of depression and impairment over time, and this will be primarily evident in tasks clearly examining reward devaluation. Exploratory analyses will also investigate the specificity and overlap of each task to determine whether particular task elements are more sensitive or specific predictors of psychological crisis and impairment. Future Directions. Our ultimate goal is to use tasks indexing reward devaluation as part of a novel assessment and treatment protocol that aims to increase individuals' self-awareness and readiness to engage with potentially threatening positive information as part of an experimental therapeutics approach.

Public Health Relevance

The current research is relevant to public health because it investigates how well tasks associated with reward devaluation theory relate to depression over time. This research can produce assessments and interventions that help treat and prevent psychopathology and thus have positive public health implications.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Academic Research Enhancement Awards (AREA) (R15)
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Adult Psychopathology and Disorders of Aging Study Section (APDA)
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Morris, Sarah E
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Mississippi State University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Mississippi State
United States
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Jordan, D Gage; Winer, E Samuel; Salem, Taban et al. (2018) Longitudinal evaluation of anhedonia as a mediator of fear of positive evaluation and other depressive symptoms. Cogn Emot 32:1437-1447
Salem, Taban; Winer, E Samuel; Nadorff, Michael R (2018) Combined behavioural markers of cognitive biases are associated with anhedonia. Cogn Emot 32:422-430
Winer, E Samuel; Bryant, Jessica; Bartoszek, Gregory et al. (2017) Mapping the relationship between anxiety, anhedonia, and depression. J Affect Disord 221:289-296
Winer, E Samuel; Salem, Taban (2016) Reward devaluation: Dot-probe meta-analytic evidence of avoidance of positive information in depressed persons. Psychol Bull 142:18-78