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Is depression associated with reduced optimistic belief updating?

Case study: open research practices

Rose-tinted glasses
Do people with depression lack optimistic biases held by the general population?

Dr Catherine Hobbs from the Department of Psychology, describes the actions she took with regard to open research in her study and her approach to maintaining ethical standards.

About my study

People with depression expect to experience more negative events in their lifetime. But how do these expectations persist in the face of good news? Replicating previous research, we found that people with depression lack optimistic biases held by the general population. Whereas healthy participants changed their expectations more when they were given good versus bad news, participants with depression changed their expectations to a similar amount irrespective of whether they’d received good or bad news. Our results add confidence to previous findings that people experiencing depression expect more negative things in part because they are less likely to listen to good news.

Ethical issues to consider

  • Consenting participants
  • Anonymity of participants
  • The right to withdraw
  • Duty of care
  • Data security/storage
  • Open access publication of data

Mitigating actions

  • Obtaining ethical approval
  • Ensuring that participants were informed, and documentation was clear
  • Anonymisation of data by creation of unique numerical participant IDs
  • Signposting participants to resources for mental health support. We included this in questionnaires that asked sensitive questions (such as thoughts of suicide)
  • Creation and maintenance of a Data Management Plan

Actions taken with regard to Open Research

This study was a Registered Report. Registered reports emphasise the quality of the research, as proposed Introduction and method sections undergo peer review prior to data collection. If accepted, the study is then published as a stage 2 Registered Report when the results are available, irrespective of the findings. This removes any bias against null findings when publishing and emphasises the scientific integrity of the study through focusing on the study methodology rather than the results.

The stage 1 protocol, and study materials were made openly available on the Open Science Framework following extensive peer review and prior to data collection. Following stage 2 acceptance, the data and code that support the findings of the study were made openly available on the University of Bath Research Data Archive:

This study was also a replication of previous research. Replication is essential as it makes sure that effects are reliable, increasing confidences in findings. It also ensures that previously reported effects are not restricted to particular environments or research teams.

To ensure that participants were informed, we included a statement regarding open access publication of data. This included procedures for data anonymisation and rights to withdraw data.

Lessons learnt

  • As peer review is provided prior to data collection, changes to the study methodology based on reviewers’ suggestions can be made prior to data collection. This ensures rigorous scientific methods.
  • Publication of study protocol and materials as open access - it is key that we report research methods and materials with transparency so that other researchers can see exactly what we have done. This means that they can replicate our findings easily, adding confidence to our findings.
  • Replicating previous research – From attempting to replicate another research lab’s methods, it emphasises how important clear reporting of methodology is. The clearer and more transparent that you are in your reporting, the more usable your research is to other people in the future. This ensures that you include all relevant information in your research report.
  • Open Access publication of data – Ensuring that participants are aware of what open access publication of data involves and their rights to withdraw data.
  • Full anonymisation of data was needed to prevent potential identification of participants. This is particularly important when researching sensitive topics such as mental health.

Further reading

The full article can be found here:

Hobbs C, Vozarova P, Sabharwal A, Shah P, Button K. 2022 Is depression associated with reduced optimistic belief updating? R. Soc. Open Sci.9: 190814.

Further information about registered reports can be found here:

Find out more about research integrity and ethics

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This case study, edited by Helen Friend, is part of a collection outlining the experiences of researchers from the University of Bath in relation to research ethics. The researchers describe the ethical issues that arose during their research projects, the mitigating actions they took and the lessons that they learnt. More case studies can be found here. We gratefully acknowledge support from Research England through the Enhancing Research Culture Fund (ERCP).