A new study has found that depressed individuals appear to perform better in sequential decision tasks, part of our problem-solving cognitive functioning abilities, than non-depressed individuals.

As the world’s most frequently diagnosed mental disorder, depression is often associated with traits of sadness and apathy. However, for decades psychologists have debated whether depression provides any positive side-effects. Although most symptoms of depression appear to interfere with cognitive functioning, a new study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that depression may have a positive side-effect that promotes analytical reasoning and persistence—qualities helpful in complex tasks.

Researchers analyzed the performance of individuals in a complex sequential decision task who are non-depressed, depressed, and recovering from a major depressive episode.

Participants in the study played a computer game in which they could earn money by hiring an applicant in a simulated job search. Healthy participants evaluated few candidates before making a decision, while depressed participants appeared to come closer to the optimal strategy, searching more thoroughly and making decisions that resulted in higher payoffs.

Depressed individuals performed better than non-depressed individuals, suggesting that acutely depressed participants had higher thresholds for accepting options and made better choices than either healthy participants or those recovering from depression. A full understanding of the consequences and effects of depression may help reveal treatment options.