Processing Personal Information is Different While Depressed

depressedIndividuals who are experiencing a depressive episode have been found to process information about themselves differently when compared to individuals who are not depressed.[1]

Researchers at the University of Liverpool used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of individuals who were in major depressive episodes and those who were not.1 The participants were given tasks to do while in the fMRI machine: choose adjectives to describe themselves—a personal figure—and the British Queen—a figure significantly removed from their daily lives.1

Results showed that participants who were experiencing depressed mood chose significantly fewer positive words and many more negative words to describe themselves compared to participants who were not depressed.1 However, that was not too surprising as it was also found that there were greater blood oxygen levels in the medial superior frontal cortex, an area associated with processing self-related information.1 Brain activity only differed when depressed individuals thought about themselves, not when they thought about the Queen.1

Many individuals who are depressed have unrealistically high standards for themselves and other people, believing that they should never make mistakes—and when they do, which is human, they feel like a failure.2 They feel hopeless, choosing adjectives that do not do themselves justice—picking out their flaws, but forgetting about the abundance of positive aspects they have.[2]  They focus on their short-comings, exaggerate them, and minimize their positive qualities.2 They lack self-esteem and self-confidence.2 Oftentimes, they tend to be self-critical and self-blaming.2 They believe their future is hopeless, and think their lives will always be as bad as it is now—or worse.2

They exaggerate, overgeneralize, and/or misinterpret the events in their life, rejecting the positive and focusing on the negative.2 They often have self-defeating, destructive, and distorted thoughts that perpetuate their depression.2 They feel like a loser, a failure, are afraid of rejection, and think those around them believe they are worthless.2 Adjectives that frequently come to the minds of depressed individuals are stupid, weak, ugly, and unlovable.2

In spite of what we know to be true, humans live according to their beliefs, whether they be realistic or unrealistic.2 Once a belief has been formed, it influences a person’s thinking, attitude, choices, and behavior until it is confronted and changed.2 It is usually not one single belief, but many that creates depressive thinking patterns.2

This study paves the way for further research into the psychological and neural processes that accompany depressed mood.1 It is important to understand more about how individuals evaluate themselves while they are depressed as it could lead to improved care.1

[1] Wood, J. (2013). Depressed People Process Personal Information Differently. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 12, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/11/09/depressed-people-process-personal-information-differently/61814.html

[2] Depression. (n.d.). Understanding Depression. Retrieved November 12, 2013, from http://www.internt.net/die2live/6-Depression.htm

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