The guilt-depression connection


Brains of people with depression respond differently to feelings of guilt – even after their depressive symptoms have gone away. Brain scans of people with a history of depression differed in the regions associated with guilt and knowledge of socially acceptable behavior from those individuals who never had depression.

The study from the University of Manchester provides the first evidence of brain mechanisms explaining why exaggerated guilt and self-blame are the keys to understanding depression, as Freud explained it.

“Our research provides the first brain mechanism that could explain the classical observation by Freud that depression is distinguished from normal sadness by proneness to exaggerated feelings of guilt or self-blame. For the first time, we chart the regions of the brain that interact to link detailed knowledge about socially appropriate behavior – the anterior temporal lobe – with feelings of guilt – the subgenual region of the brain – in people who are prone to depression,” -- lead researcher Dr. Roland Zahn, from the University of Manchester School of Psychological Sciences.

MRI used to analyze brain behavior

The team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan brains of people in remission from depression and a control group of individuals who had never suffered depression.

“The scans revealed that the people with a history of depression did not couple the brain regions associated with gilt and knowledge of appropriate behavior together as strongly as the never depressed control group do,” explained Zahn.

“Interestingly, this decoupling only occurs when people prone to depression feel guilty or blame themselves but not when they feel angry or blame others. This could reflect a lack of access to details about what exactly was inappropriate about their behavior when feeling guilty, thereby extending guilt to things they are not responsible for.”

Source: ScienceDaily, Archives of General Psychiatry


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