Get A Grip

Depression appears to be on the increase in the western world if the TV ads for antidepressants are an indicator. We rarely hear the phrase “pull yourself together” these days and that must be a good thing. However, in the workplace our depression may not be noticed and the workload is not reduced, but the pressure is often increased in an attempt to produce greater output.

The usual incentive used by the industrial magnates is money and that has proved pretty effective for a long time, but if we are genuinely depressed, do we care? The other incentive that is used by the more enlightened is working conditions and mood enhancing surroundings. The idea being that if we are happy little bunnies we will be very productive and everything will expand and we will have more happy bunnies producing more and more (goods that is.)

But let’s get back to that part of the population suffering from depression. Cléry-Melin et al from Paris have studied the effect of depression of incentive and emotional arousal on the job in hand with a group of 40-somethings  with major depression (1). They were asked to squeeze a handle and were motivated by squeezing for money. They were mood-modified by being shown nice or nasty pictures prior to the task. They also had to rate the amount of effort that they had put in. A control group of vibrant Parisiens of the same age group was also squeezing for cash.

The mood-modifying pictures did nothing for the control group who squeezed harder for cash regardless of the pictures. However, the depressed patients squeezed as instructed but didn’t seem to care if there was more money at stake if they squeezed harder or not. Motivation was passing them by. The nastier the picture, the more effort they thought they had put in and, conversely, the nicer pictures gave them the feeling that things were easier.

Clearly, with healthy people, money is a good incentive in the short term and they can focus on the job in hand regardless of images that have been used to play with their emotions. The study raises more questions, though. Long term, is the same true? Does the lack of mood enhancing conditions result in the depression and failure of effective motivation? Perhaps happy bunnies over the long term with short-term motivational boosts might be best, don’t you think?


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