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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014.Background Major depression is associated with abnormalities in reward processing at neural and behavioural levels. Neural abnormalities in reward have been described in young people at familial risk of depression but behavioural changes in reward-based decision making have been less studied in this group. Method We studied 63 young people (mean age 18.9 years) with a parent with a diagnosis of major depression but who had never been depressed themselves, that is with a positive family history of depression (the FH+ group). Participants performed the Cambridge Gambling Task (CGT), which provides several measures of decision making including deliberation time, quality of decision making, risk taking, risk adjustment and delay aversion. A control group of 49 age- and gender-matched young people with no history of mood disorder in a first-degree relative undertook the same task. Results Both FH+ participants and controls had low and equivalent scores on anxiety and depression self-rating scales. Compared to controls, the FH+ participants showed overall lower risk taking, although like controls they made more risky choices as the odds of a favourable outcome increased. No other measures of decision making differed between the two groups. Conclusions Young people at increased familial risk of depression have altered risk taking that is not accounted for by current affective symptomatology. Lowered risk taking might represent an impairment in reward seeking, which is one of several changes in reward-based behaviours seen in acutely depressed patients; however, our findings suggest that decreased reward seeking could be part of a risk endophenotype for depression.

Original publication




Journal article


Psychological Medicine

Publication Date





375 - 380