An observational treatment study of metacognition in anxious-depression


Elife. 2023 Oct 11;12:RP87193. doi: 10.7554/eLife.87193.


Prior studies have found metacognitive biases are linked to a transdiagnostic dimension of anxious-depression, manifesting as reduced confidence in performance. However, previous work has been cross-sectional and so it is unclear if under-confidence is a trait-like marker of anxious-depression vulnerability, or if it resolves when anxious-depression improves. Data were collected as part of a large-scale transdiagnostic, four-week observational study of individuals initiating internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy (iCBT) or antidepressant medication. Self-reported clinical questionnaires and perceptual task performance were gathered to assess anxious-depression and metacognitive bias at baseline and 4-week follow-up. Primary analyses were conducted for individuals who received iCBT (n=649), with comparisons between smaller samples that received antidepressant medication (n=82) and a control group receiving no intervention (n=88). Prior to receiving treatment, anxious-depression severity was associated with under-confidence in performance in the iCBT arm, replicating previous work. From baseline to follow-up, levels of anxious-depression were significantly reduced, and this was accompanied by a significant increase in metacognitive confidence in the iCBT arm (β=0.17, SE=0.02, p<0.001). These changes were correlated (r(647)=-0.12, p=0.002); those with the greatest reductions in anxious-depression levels had the largest increase in confidence. While the three-way interaction effect of group and time on confidence was not significant (F(2, 1632)=0.60, p=0.550), confidence increased in the antidepressant group (β=0.31, SE = 0.08, p<0.001), but not among controls (β=0.11, SE = 0.07, p=0.103). Metacognitive biases in anxious-depression are state-dependent; when symptoms improve with treatment, so does confidence in performance. Our results suggest this is not specific to the type of intervention.

PMID:37818942 | PMC:PMC10567110 | DOI:10.7554/eLife.87193