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Humans have a profound need to connect with others and gain acceptance into social groups. When relationships deteriorate or when social bonds are broken, people have been found to suffer from depressive symptoms. Having a greater sense of belonging has been linked to lower levels of loneliness and depression. Although feeling disconnected from others and experiencing a lack of belonging may negatively affect any individual, those who are depressed are more sensitive to these painful experiences. Due to the importance of social experiences to people’s well-being, and to etiology and maintenance of depression, it is vital to examine how depressed people’s well-being is enhanced or eroded by positive and negative social interactions.
When people experience positive social interactions, they should feel a sense of belonging. However, depressed people’s social information-processing biases make it less likely that they will recognize cues of acceptance and belonging in social interactions. For example, in a laboratory study using information-processing tasks assessing attention and memory for sad, physically threatening, socially threatening, and positive stimuli, clinically depressed people were found to show preferential attention to sad faces, emotion words, and adjectives. Depressed people displayed biases for stimuli concerned with sadness and loss.
People who are depressed often fail to satisfy their need for belonging in relationships and therefore, report fewer intimate relationships. Those who are depressed appear to induce negative affect in other individuals, which consequently elicits rejection and the loss of socially rewarding opportunities. Depressed people are less likely to feel a sense of belonging and are more likely to pay attention to negative social interactions. Research has found that depressive symptoms may sensitize people to everyday experiences of both social rejection and social acceptance.