Stanford researchers use fMRI technology to study the brains of teenage girls at risk of depression. Early findings suggest to train their brains away from negative situations.
The study, led by psychology Professor Ian Gotlib, focuses on 10- to 14-year-old girls whose mothers are, or have been, depressed. Previous research has shown that these girls have a significantly higher risk of developing depression than do children with no family history.
The brains of people who are depressed or at risk of becoming depressed overreact to negative experiences. During the fMRI the researchers watch how much blood flows to each part of the brain. They pay particular attention to the amygdala region.
While undergoing the fMRI, the girls watch the level of their brain activity on a graph. The researchers then ask the girls to try to dampen the response by thinking about more positive experiences, such as going to the beach or playing with pets.
“They see a line and we say to them, ‘We’d like you to make it lower,'” Gotlib said. “Many of us would think it’s impossible – how can we change the level of activation in a particular part of our brain without affecting the level of activation in another part of our brain?”
But most of the time, the girls do it – much to their surprise and that of the researchers.
“Most of the girls are self-satisfied,” said Paul Hamilton, a postdoctoral researcher working on the study. “They’re happy but they also come across as a little amazed they were able to do it.”
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