Adults and teenagers with clinical depression don’t respond to rewards in a normal manner. Their moods are less enthusiastic, and their brains don’t act the same way as those in adults and adolescents who are not depressed. Although depression has been diagnosed in children as young as 3, it hasn’t been clear whether the responses of very young children to rewards also may be blunted. So Washington University researchers studied kids ages 4 to 7 and found that, like adults, when these young children were depressed, their brains were less likely to respond to rewards. The researchers say that could mean insensitivity to rewards may serve as a “red flag” for depression in young children.
PAST RESEARCH HAS FOUND THAT THE BRAINS OF DEPRESSED ADULTS AND ADOLESCENTS OFTEN DON’T RESPOND AS MUCH TO REWARDS AS THE BRAINS OF PEOPLE WHO DON’T HAVE DEPRESSION. NOW, CHILD PSYCHIATRY RESEARCHERS AT WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE IN ST. LOUIS HAVE FOUND THE SAME THING IS TRUE IN VERY YOUNG CHILDREN. JIM DRYDEN HAS MORE…
IT’S GETTING TO BE THE SEASON FOR PRESENTS, AND IF YOUR FOUR-YEAR-OLD DOESN’T SEEM EXCITED ABOUT THAT, IT COULD BE A PROBLEM ACCORDING TO RESEARCHERS AT WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE IN ST. LOUIS. IN OLDER ADOLESCENTS AND ADULTS, RESEARCH HAS FOUND THAT WHEN A PERSON IS DEPRESSED, THE BRAIN’S RESPONSE TO REWARDS CAN BE BLUNTED. NOW, THE FIRST AUTHOR OF A NEW STUDY OF PRESCHOOLERS SAYS THEY’VE FOUND THE SAME THING IS TRUE IN KIDS AS YOUNG AS FOUR. ANDREW BELDEN SAYS THIS IS…
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…frequently found in adults and adolescents, so what we were
interested in doing was to see, do, in fact, the depressed
preschoolers show this blunted response to reward doing slightly
modified, but age-appropriate tasks?
AGE-APPROPRIATE TASKS BECAUSE THE CHILDREN WERE PLAYING FOR TOYS. ADULTS AND ADOLESCENTS WERE STUDIED USING MONEY AS A REWARD. BELDEN SAYS FOR THIS STUDY, KIDS WERE SHOWN A COUPLE OF SETS OF TOYS THAT THEY COULD WIN. THEN THEY SAT AT A COMPUTER AND WERE ASKED TO PICK ONE OF TWO DOORS, WHICH THEN RANDOMLY GAVE THEM POINTS TOWARD A GOOD TOY OR SUBTRACTED POINTS FROM THEM, KIND OF LIKE A SLOT MACHINE FOR PRESCHOOLERS.
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The depressed preschoolers show a neural response very similar
to what is seen in older children, adolescents, adults.
THE RESEARCHERS MEASURED BRAIN ACTIVITY BY HAVING THE KIDS WEAR A SHOWER CAP-LOOKING DEVICE THAT WAS HOOKED TO ELECTRODES THAT MONITORED THEIR BRAIN ACTIVITY AS THE CHILDREN MADE CHOICES AND LEARNED WHETHER THOSE CHOICES WERE GETTING THEM CLOSER TO A TOY THEY LIKED, OR FARTHER AWAY. SENIOR INVESTIGATOR JOAN LUBY SAYS HER RESEARCH PREVIOUSLY HAD IDENTIFIED ANHEDONIA, THAT IS AN INABILITY TO EXPERIENCE JOY, FOR EXAMPLE IN ACTIVITIES AND PLAY, AS AN IMPORTANT MARKER OF DEPRESSION IN PRESCHOOLERS. AND THESE NEW FINDINGS APPEAR TO FIT WITH THOSE OLDER ONES.
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So this just gave us the neural validator of the behavior. An
alteration in this process this early in development is a serious
concern because it sort of sets the stage for how people approach
their interaction with rewarding tasks.
AND BELDEN SAYS THE DIFFERENCES WEREN’T APPARENT WHEN THE CHILDREN MADE A CHOICE THAT COST THEM POINTS. IN OTHER WORDS, IT WASN’T THAT THE BRAIN REACTED MORE NEGATIVELY TO FAILURE. IT WAS THAT IT REACTED LESS POSITIVELY TO SUCCESS AND REWARD.
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The difference was specific to their reactivity, their neural
reaction, to winning, or reward.
LUBY AND BELDEN ARE CONTINUING TO STUDY PRESCHOOLERS WITH AND WITHOUT DEPRESSION. THEY SAY THEY PLAN TO USE MRI IMAGING TO LOOK MORE CLOSELY AT SPECIFIC BRAIN REGIONS THAT MAY BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DIFFERENCES THEY SAW IN THIS STUDY, AND LUBY SAYS THE RESEARCHERS ALSO PLAN TO SEE WHETHER THERAPY MIGHT CHANGE THESE PATTERNS.
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With the expectation that they will have a greater response to
reward after undergoing the treatment.
LUBY, BELDEN AND THEIR COLLEAGUES REPORT THEIR FINDINGS IN THE JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF CHILD & ADOLESCENT PSYCHIATRY. I’M JIM DRYDEN…