Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers at the University of Liverpool scanned the brains of people in major depressive episodes and those who weren’t. The task subjects were given while in the fMRI machine was to choose adjectives to describe themselves or the British Queen — a figure significantly removed from their daily lives that all but one of the participants were familiar with.
“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,” said Professor Peter Kinderman, head of the university’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society.
“That’s not too surprising, but the brain scans also revealed significantly greater blood oxygen levels in the medial superior frontal cortex — the area associated with processing self-related information — when the depressed participants were making judgments about themselves.”
The research leads the way for further studies into the psychological and neural processes that accompany depressed mood, he continued.
“Understanding more about how people evaluate themselves when they are depressed and how neural processes are involved could lead to improved understanding and care,” he said.
“This study explored ways to consolidate some of the differences between medical and psychological models of depression,” added Dr. May Sarsam, from the Mersey Care NHS Trust.
“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,” she added.
The research, in collaboration with the Mersey Care NHS Trust and the Universities of Manchester, Edinburgh and Lancaster, was published in PLOS One.
Source: University of Liverpool