Individuals who were able to watch their own brains respond to positive imagery were better able to control the outcome and, in turn, feel less depressed, according to a study at Cardiff University.
Another group of eight participants who were asked to think positively — but were not shown their own brain images — had no improvement in depression.
The researchers believe that the MRI scans helped participants work out, through trial and error, which kinds of positive emotional imagery were most effective.
The technique, known as neurofeedback, has already had some success in helping people with Parkinson’s disease.
The team noted that a larger study is needed to establish how effective the therapy is, especially in the long term.
Professor David Linden, who led the study, said it had the potential to become part of the “treatment package” for depression.
Approximately one-fifth of people will develop depression during their lifetime and one-third of those will not respond to standard treatments.
“One of the interesting aspects of this technique is that it gives patients the experience of controlling aspects of their own brain activity,” said Linden. “Many of them were very interested in this new way of engaging with their brains.”
Chris Ames, from the mental health charity Mind, said, “While these initial results are interesting, the research is clearly at an early stage. Further research should give a better idea of how beneficial this technique could be as a treatment for depression.”
The study is published in the journal PLoS One.
Source: Cardiff University