Although the study was small, researchers discovered that when people are read emotionally laden words, the amount of pupil dilatation indicates if they would respond to cognitive or talk therapy.
According the National Institute of Health, more than 20 million Americans suffer from depression. However, current forms of talk therapy are effective for only half of the patients who undergo this treatment.
Predicting who would most likely benefit from therapy is expected to speed recovery times and reduce costs by minimizing ineffective care.
University of Pittsburgh and University of Pennsylvania researchers say the technique draws from emerging findings that suggests brain scans can help to predict which patients will respond to cognitive therapy.
Unfortunately, brain scans are too expensive, time-intensive, and fraught with technical challenges to use on a routine basis.
“We have shown that a quick, inexpensive, and easy to administer physiological measure, pupil dilation in response to emotional words, not only reflects activity in brain regions involved in depression and treatment response but can predict which patients are likely to respond to cognitive therapy,” explained Dr. Greg Siegle, corresponding author on the study.
The findings are published in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry.
“According to the proverb, the eye is the mirror of the soul or, in this case, the brain. The essential finding of this study is that that activity in the brain’s cortical emotion regulatory systems is strongly related to pupil size when people are viewing emotion-laden words,” commented Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.
“It is because of this relationship between eye and brain that pupil measurements predict the response to cognitive therapy.”
Talk therapy helps individuals overcome or modify negative or irrational thoughts and behavior. Individuals learn techniques to improve their thoughts thereby improving mood and reducing stress.
Although the preliminary results are positive, the study needs to be replicated on a larger scale. If the results hold forth, the technique will help practitioners better determine appropriate interventions.