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Personal Contemplation Triggers Increased Brain Activity during Depressive Episodes

By Medimaging International staff writers
Posted on 21 Nov 2013
Image: The study used fMRI to analyze the brain while participants chose positive, negative, and neutral adjectives to describe either themselves or the British Queen (Photo courtesy of the University of Liverpool).
Image: The study used fMRI to analyze the brain while participants chose positive, negative, and neutral adjectives to describe either themselves or the British Queen (Photo courtesy of the University of Liverpool).
British investigators have shown that people experiencing depressive attacks display increased brain activity when they think about themselves.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain imaging technologies, the scientists, from the University of Liverpool (UK), discovered that individuals experiencing a depressive episode process data about themselves in the brain differently to people who are not depressed.

Researchers scanned the brains of people in major depressive episodes and those that weren't while they chose positive, negative and neutral adjectives to describe either themselves or the British Queen—a figure considerably separated from their daily lives but one that all study participants were familiar with.

Prof. Peter Kinderman, head of the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health, and Society, said, “We found that participants who were experiencing depressed mood chose significantly fewer positive words and more negative and neutral words to describe themselves, in comparison to participants who were not depressed. That’s not too surprising, but the brain scans also revealed significantly greater blood oxygen levels in the medial superior frontal cortex when the depressed participants were making judgments about themselves. This research leads the way for further studies into the psychological and neural processes that accompany depressed mood. Understanding more about how people evaluate themselves when they are depressed, and how neural processes are involved could lead to improved understanding and care.”

Dr. May Sarsam, from the Mersey Care NHS (National Health Service) Trust (UK), said, “This study explored the difference in medical and psychological theories of depression. It showed that brain activity only differed when depressed people thought about themselves, not when they thought about the Queen or when they made other types of judgments, which fits very well with the current psychological theory. Thought and neurochemistry should be considered as equally important in our understanding of mental health difficulties such as depression.”

The study’s findings were published October 30, 2013, in the journal PLoS ONE.

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