Cognitive theories of depression posit that perception is negatively biased in depressive disorder. Previous studies have provided empirical evidence for this notion, but left open the question whether the negative perceptual bias reflects a stable trait or the current depressive state. Here we investigated the stability of negatively biased perception over time. Emotion perception was examined in patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) and healthy control participants in two experiments. In the first experiment subjective biases in the recognition of facial emotional expressions were assessed. Participants were presented with faces that were morphed between sad and neutral and happy expressions and had to decide whether the face was sad or happy. The second experiment assessed automatic emotion processing by measuring the potency of emotional faces to gain access to awareness using interocular suppression. A follow-up investigation using the same tests was performed three months later. In the emotion recognition task, patients with major depression showed a shift in the criterion for the differentiation between sad and happy faces: In comparison to healthy controls, patients with MDD required a greater intensity of the happy expression to recognize a face as happy. After three months, this negative perceptual bias was reduced in comparison to the control group. The reduction in negative perceptual bias correlated with the reduction of depressive symptoms. In contrast to previous work, we found no evidence for preferential access to awareness of sad vs. happy faces. Taken together, our results indicate that MDD-related perceptual biases in emotion recognition reflect the current clinical state rather than a stable depressive trait.