Adults with depression have less motivation to engage in pleasurable activities when compared to their nondepressed peers. In fact, low reward-seeking behavior is a prominent characteristic of depression. For teens, socializing with peers, participating in physical activities and humorous situations can be very rewarding. It is during adolescence that reward processing develops most dramatically. Therefore, adolescence is a prime time to evaluate the differences in reward processing among adolescents with and without depression, as well as those at risk for depression.
Adhip Rawal of the Department of Clinical, Educational, and Health Psychology at the University College London used a sample of 197 adolescents ranging in age from 10 to 18 for a recent study. All of the participants had a family member with depression and were assessed over the course of one year for reward processing, affect, and functional impairment. Rawal found that the participants that had low reward-seeking behaviors were more likely to develop symptoms of depression or have increases in symptoms when compared to those with high levels of reward-seeking behaviors. Decreased reward seeking also put participants at a greater risk of impaired functioning and limited their social relationships and extracurricular activities.
One promising finding was that the participants with depression and diminished reward seeking did not have psychomotor deficiencies. This is significant because research has shown psychomotor impairment to be a major symptom of depression in adults. For adolescents with depression or who are at risk for depression, it is possible that decision-making processes are still intact. In other words, these participants were able to make clear decisions with respect to what would bring pleasure and what wouldn’t. But those with reward seeking deficits chose not to participate in those things that would bring them pleasure. Rawal believes that this information could help clinicians in their therapeutic efforts to treat adolescents at risk for depression. “Incorporating strategies to boost effective reward responding into such preventive interventions may be worthwhile,” said Rawal.
Rawal, A., et al. ‘The risks of playing it safe’: A prospective longitudinal study of response to reward in the adolescent offspring of depressed parents. Psychological medicine 43.1 (2013): 27-38. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.
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