December 21, 2009
Brain Positive Emotions Peter Out In Depressed

In depressed people the areas of the brain that generate positive emotions do not maintain high activity levels for as long.

MADISON A new study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that depressed patients are unable to sustain activity in brain areas related to positive emotion.

The study challenges previous notions that individuals with depression show less brain activity in areas associated with positive emotion. Instead, the new data suggest similar initial levels of activity, but an inability to sustain them over time. The new work was reported online this week (Dec. 21) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure in things normally rewarding, is a cardinal symptom of depression," explains UW-Madison graduate student Aaron Heller, who led the project. "Scientists have generally thought that anhedonia is associated with a general reduction of activity in brain areas thought to be important for positive emotion and reward. In fact, we found that depressed patients showed normal levels of activity early on in the experiment. However, towards the end of the experiment, those levels of activity dropped off precipitously.

"Those depressed subjects who were better able to sustain activity in brain regions related to positive emotion and reward also reported higher levels of positive emotion in their everyday experience," Heller continues.

If depressed people were to receive more rewards would a higher frequency of rewards keep the positive emotion areas lit up? Or do these areas lack energy or chemicals needed to maintain higher activity levels? Do these brain areas fatigue? Or do other brain areas send them signals that dampen down the positive emotions?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 December 21 10:20 PM  Brain Depression

James Bowery said at December 22, 2009 10:37 AM:

Sincere there now seems to be a clear biological marker for depression, it may be time to do some real research starting with something that is so obvious it must be taboo or it would already have been researched:

Demographic collapse would, by evolutionary psychology, tend to precipitate depression. Hence, one should expect to find higher levels of depression among demographies experiencing demographic collapse.

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