Girls at Risk for Depression Exhibit Difficulty Processing Rewards and Losses

Depression is typically associated with a diminished performance in terms of benefiting from rewards or experiencing pleasure based on success. Recently, researchers at Stanford University investigated this issue among adolescent girls who had not experienced a depressive episode, but who were indicated as being at a high risk of developing depression. The girls’ mothers were identified as having recurrent depression, a high risk factor for daughters. A control group of girls did not have the same risk.

Participants were given functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or fMRI scans while performing a task involving potential rewards and losses, based on a series of attempts to hit or avoid hitting a specially-shaped target. The girls who were at a high risk for depression exhibited brain activity that was diminished compared to the control group when looking forward to and receiving rewards. The study group also seemed to show a greater response to the reception of punishment. The results suggest that girls who are at a high risk of developing depression exhibit one of the key factors in the psychological concern itself, even without the presence of depressive episodes.

The research suggests that this may indicate a predisposition towards depression based on certain family or social factors, and also posits that the decrease in positive response to success and reward is not something itself caused by the experience of depression. Researchers on the team note that the exploration of whether disruption in the positive experience of rewards meaningfully correlates with the eventual onset of depression in girls and in the population at large. The work may help psychology professionals develop more effective screening and prevention practices for youth, and may also influence future studies surrounding the causes and effects of various depressive symptoms.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • patrice bowden

    patrice bowden

    April 10th, 2010 at 1:28 PM

    is it actually possible that depression is contagious…?I think it is partially rue, because if the environment and people around you are depressing there is a fair bit of chance that even you feel depressed!

  • clarke


    April 11th, 2010 at 4:23 AM

    Don’t you yhink that really anyone who is experiencing a bout with depression would have difficulty with discerning rewards and losses? Depression makes everything one tone, almost numbing you, so I could easily see how when you are going through this you would experience things differently, in more of a muted manner.

  • Lucia Browne

    Lucia Browne

    April 11th, 2010 at 3:36 PM

    Depression can really have a stern effect on an individual and may make the person disinterested in anything around them,including rewards!While this may seem surprising it is very common for a person under depression to let go of things that anybody else would actually yearn for!

  • Olivia


    April 12th, 2010 at 3:10 AM

    When you are deressed you don’t see anything as a reward, everything looks like a loss.



    April 12th, 2010 at 5:16 AM

    This sounds like a good way to recognize someone who is at the crossroads and may just happen to fall into depression…this can be communicated to parents of children so that they watch out.

  • Ferrari


    April 12th, 2010 at 1:22 PM

    a depressed person is like someone in a trance…neither positive things evoke joy nor do negative ones evoke fear or disappointment… the major reason for this is because when we are depressed we are not looking forward to or scared of anything…whatever happens,we just do not care!

  • Elizabeth R.

    Elizabeth R.

    April 12th, 2010 at 9:02 PM

    As a mother, it scares me to think that I could pass on my depression to my daughter. Is that only the case for girls or can depression be passed from mother to son too?

  • Valerie


    April 14th, 2010 at 6:05 PM

    That makes me wonder about my own family history. I have never heard my mother say she was ever depressed, although I know my grandmother suffered from anxiety attacks and couldn’t even get on a bus alone because she hated being in crowds. My memories of my mother from childhood are all good ones of her being all smiles and laughter. I shall make enquiries now I’ve read that.

  • Victoria L.

    Victoria L.

    April 16th, 2010 at 10:35 AM

    I’m glad we have another piece in the depression puzzle. It’s so debilitating and so misunderstood by non-sufferers. Good news there.

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