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 GoodTherapy.org.
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