The Crybaby Biomarker and Depression in the Brain

There is also evidence that these brain-wave asymmetries may be linked to depression. The researchers compared the EEGs of a group of normal subjects who had never been treated for depression and those of a group of subjects who had been previously depressed and later successfully treated. They found that the previously depressed subjects had far less left-frontal activity, and far more right-frontal activity, than those who had never been depressed.

A recent brain-mapping study of depressive patients by C. Norman Shealy, M.D., Ph.D., at the Shealy Institute revealed that 100 percent of the patients had abnormal brain-wave activity. The most common finding was “Asymmetry of the two hemispheres with right hemisphere dominance.”

Another study revealed that patients who had just been diagnosed with depression and were about to begin treatment had less left-frontal activity than nondepressed subjects. “You find similar brain patterns in people who are depressed, or who have recovered from depression, and in normal people who are prone to bad moods,” said one of the researchers, Dr. John Davidson, of theUniversityofWisconsinatMadison. “We suspect that people with this brain activity pattern are at high risk for depression.”

There is even evidence that these brain-wave patterns and emotional “styles” may be hereditary or genetically influenced. Davidson has studied the behavior and the EEG patterns of ten-month old infants during a brief period (one minute) of separation from their mothers, and found that “those infants who cried in response to maternal separation showed greater right-frontal activation during the preceding baseline period compared with infants who did not cry.” According to Davidson, “Every single infant who cried had more right frontal activation. Every one who did not had more activity on the left.” He concluded that “Frontal activation asymmetry may be a state-independent marker for individual differences in threshold of reactivity to stressful events and vulnerability to particular emotions.”

These clear links between frontal activation asymmetry have led many researchers to believe that these brain patterns can be useful for diagnosis, particularly for diagnosing people at risk for depression. Says Davidson, “We believe that in the face of life stress like losing a job or a divorce,” those with right-frontal activation “are likely to be particularly susceptible to depression.”

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