Depression Slows Us Down, Literally

Some of the most common symptoms of depressed mood include confusion, hopelessness, fatigue, sadness, sleep problems, and changes in appetite. In an attempt to better understand the fluctuations that occur in symptoms of depressed mood, researchers have used a method known as ecological momentary assessment (EMA). Most of the existing data gathered from EMAs has been via hand written, first person pen and paper diary entries. Although this method can be valuable, it allows for human error and oversight in mood and symptoms fluctuation.

To minimize any error in recording, Jinhyuk Kim of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Tokyo in Japan recently conducted a study depressed mood using electronic EMA. Kim enlisted 85 participants ranging from adolescence to adulthood and equipped them with computerized EMA recorders that they wore on their wrists. The recorders captured not only manually entered mood assessments, but also the level of locomotor activity that the participants engaged in during the study period.

Using the data collected from the recorders, Kim found a strong association between depressed mood and locomotor patterns. Specifically, Kim noticed that increases in depressed mood, anxiety and fatigue were directly associated with decreases in locomotor activity and intermittent periods of low activity. These findings provide a very accurate and real-time look into the way in which mood affects activity. Because many people with depressed mood experience fatigue, that symptom may be a contributing factor to the lower levels of locomotor activity.

Kim did not extend the basis of this study to include exploration into the mechanisms that caused the associations, but believes future work should address those relationships. Until that time, this study shows that depressed mood not only affects activity levels directly in proportion to symptom level, but also regardless of age. All of the participants, despite age, gender, or other demographic differences, exhibited similar trends related to activity and symptoms.

This suggests that depressed mood is a robust indicator of psychophysiological outcomes. “In addition,” said Kim, “Our findings on the concurrent changes in depressive mood and locomotor activity may contribute to the continuous estimation of changes in depressive mood and early detection of depressive disorders.”

Kim, J., Nakamura, T., Kikuchi, H., Sasaki, T., Yamamoto, Y. (2013). Co-variation of depressive mood and locomotor dynamics evaluated by ecological momentary assessment in healthy humans. PLoS ONE 8(9): e74979. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0074979

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  • Cokely


    October 4th, 2013 at 10:12 AM

    yeah you can just kind of see that someone who is depressed moves in slow motion

  • brandt


    October 5th, 2013 at 8:06 AM

    I promise you though, if you can find way to will yourself to go out and do some exercise you would feel so much better! It is amazizng how just a little bit of physical activity, even when you feel your absolute worst and think that this is the last thing on eart that you want to be doing, how this can put a little extra pep in your step and maybe even help you get out of this depressed state even faster. I have been there and I understand that sometimes even just getting out of bed can be the hardest part, but if you have someone who can be your encouragement, and be your partner, and get you to put one foot in front of the other then you can face that challenge and this could go a long way in the healking process.

  • Lucas


    October 5th, 2013 at 12:58 PM

    This is all well and good but have you ever been on anti depressants before? Until you get just the right dosage they can make you feel even worse than you did before!
    It’s not like you are gonna be chomping at the bit to go out and play a game of tag.

  • avery


    October 7th, 2013 at 3:48 AM

    Do you think that the general mood that you exhibited before getting sick is any indicator of just how hard something like this would affect you?

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