Depression activates self-reflection part of brain


People who experience depression demonstrate increased brain activity when they think about themselves when compared to people who are not depressed.

"We know that depression is associated with negative thoughts, and especially with negative thoughts about the self," explained Peter Kinderman, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Liverpool. These findings could lead the way for further studies looking at neural and psychological mechanisms linked to depression.

Describing words

Using fMRI, researchers scanned the brains of 13 participants who were suffering from major depression. They compared the results to a control group. During the scan, participants were asked to describe either themselves using positive, negative or neutral adjectives, or they could describe the British Queen, a familiar woman but one removed from their day-to-day.

Not surprisingly, depressed people used more negative and neutral words to describe themselves. Their brain scans revealed increased blood oxygen levels in the medial superior frontal cortex of the brain, a region linked to processing self-related information, higher than when they described the Queen. This area of the brain was also activated more by people who were depressed.

Negative thoughts are 'key elements'

"Negative thoughts, especially about the self, are key elements of depressed mood, so it’s important to understand as much as we can about how these thoughts work," explained Kinderman. "That includes the role of the brain – which parts of the brain are involved in these kinds of thoughts, which neurotransmitters are involved, what connections does the brain make between different kinds of thoughts?"

The next step is to look at whether patterns of brain activity found in this research may change as a result of psychological therapies and other interventions.

Sources: MedicalNewsToday, PLOS One


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