Depression And Anger: What We Focus On May Result In Recurrent Low Spirits

First Posted: Jun 16, 2015 03:53 PM EDT

Statistics show that 80 percent of individuals with a past history of depression will get depressed again in the future. Yet the specific factors related to this depression have been relatively unknown.

In a recent study, researchers at Binghamton University set out to examine just why this happens. They recruited 160 women--60 of whom had dealt with depression in the past and 100 of whom had no history of depression. Each of the participants were then shown a series of two faces, one with a neutral expression and the other with a sad or happy expression.

With the help of an eye-tracking device, they found that women with a past history of depression paid more attention to the angry faces. More importantly, among women with a history of prior depression, they also tended to focus more on the angry faces that were at greatest risk of developing depression again over the next two years.

"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. So they're at greatest risk," said graduate student and lead author of the study Mary Woody, in a news release. "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."

Computer programs and games are actually specifically developed to address these types of attentional biases, according to researchers. The approach has actually been shown to address promise in the treatment of anxiety and is now being tested as a treatment for depression, further highlighting the important role in how attentional biases play in depression risk.

"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," Woody concluded.

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