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

Paul Liknaitzky, Luke D. Smillie, Nicholas B. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)757-776
Number of pages20
JournalCognitive Therapy and Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive rigidity
  • Depression
  • Expectancy-violation
  • Inference
  • Prediction-error

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