In a new preliminary study by Stanford researchers, daughters of depressed mothers were able to witness their own stress levels go down on a real-time brain scan as they switched from negative thoughts to happy ones.
The girls, ages 10 to 14, were the focus of the study based on previous findings that girls born from depressed mothers, or from mothers who have experienced depression, have a higher risk of the illness.
Depressed people have more intense responses to negative experiences, including increased heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol (stress hormone) production. By observing the girls’ brain activity when they were shown upsetting pictures — such as an accident — and measuring the stress response with a graph, the researchers could then ask the girls to try to lower the graph by thinking of positive thoughts like playing with pets.
Happy and amazed, the girls found out that they were able to decrease the level with their own thoughts.
Another study task included looking at two faces on a computer screen: one negative and one positive. The girls were then asked to move a dot toward the positive face and click on it. Then another pair of images appeared and the same situation was repeated over and over. The game taught the depression-prone girls to choose the more positive option when presented with a choice.
The Stanford research could help these girls learn to prevent depression. A followup period after the tests seemed to suggest the potential for depression prevention. After putting the girls through some tests to bring on stress, they did not react as strongly.
The research could offer new insights into how people who are genetically predisposed to depression can prevent depression, or perhaps reduce its severity, through the use of cognitive techniques.
Source: Stanford University