Scientists Devise New Test to Determine Risk of Depression
Do you focus more on the happy faces around you or the unhappy ones? If your answer is the latter, you may be more at risk of depression, according to scientists at Binghamton University.
The researchers created a depression test to identify how likely a relapse was in people with a history of the mental illness. The study looked at 160 women – 60 who had suffered with depression in the past and 100 with no history of the condition at all. The test involved showing participants a series of pictures, each showing both a person with a neutral expression and a person with an angry, sad or happy expression.
Using eye-tracking, they found that women with a history of depression paid more attention to the angry faces. They also found that these women were the ones most likely to develop the condition again over the next two years.
“If you’re walking around day to day, your attention will just be drawn to certain things and you’ll tend to look at some things more than others,” says Brandon Gibb, professor of psychology at Binghamton University. “What we showed is if your attention is drawn to people who appear to be angry with you or critical of you, then you’re at risk for depression.”
“I think the most interesting thing about this is that we followed these women for two years, and the women who are paying attention to angry faces are the most likely to become depressed again, and they become depressed in the shortest amount of time,” says Mary Woody, graduate student and lead author of the study. “We might be able to identify women who are at greatest risk for future depression just by something as simple as how they pay attention to different emotional expressions in their world.”
Woody says that the evidence for attentional biases playing a role in depression could lead to a new type of therapy, using computer programs and games to retrain peoples’ attention. “It’s a very important first step in developing a new line of treatment for people who are at risk for depression and for who currently have depression. Some people might be able to use this instead of traditional therapy, or could use it as an adjunct to traditional treatment.”