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Attention to angry faces linked to greater risk of depression

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Posted June 17, 2015

Depression is a mental disorder that is very hard to fix. It cause many people to live with constantly bad mood and sometimes even claims their lives, as people get tired of the struggle and give up on living. However, other people find their way out, usually with help of specialists and return to normal state of mind.

Scientists have linked attentional bias toward angry faces to greater risk of depression. Such results of the research may help to develop new innovative therapies for people who have or recently had this mental disorder. Image credit: Baker131313 via Wikimedia, Public Domain

Scientists have linked attentional bias toward angry faces to greater risk of depression. Such results of the research may help to develop new innovative therapies for people who have or recently had this mental disorder. Image credit: Baker131313 via Wikimedia, Public Domain

But statistics say that up to 80% of individuals with a past history of depression will get depressed again in the future. And now scientists from Binghamton University have conducted a study, which suggests that it may be due to the things these people pay attention to in their lives.

The team of researchers recruited 160 women — 60 with a past history of depression and 100 without one. During the experiment, scientists showed each of these women two pictures of faces. One had neutral expression and other had distinctively angry, sad or happy expression. They used technology that tracks movement of the eye to see at which of these picture women pay more attention to. Results showed that women with a past history of depression paid more attention to the angry faces.

More importantly, scientists found out that these women, who paid particularly big attention to angry faces, were in greater risk of getting depression again over the next two years. When people walk in the streets, are in a crowd or work with many other people, they will start noticing certain things. For some it may be clothing, if they are interested in style and fashion, for others – facial expressions. Brandon Gibb, professor of psychology, one of co-authors of the study, say that what this research managed to show 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”.

The researchers also noted that the most interesting part of these results is that scientists, after following these women for two years, have found that those who paid more attention to angry faces are the most likely to become depressed again, and they become depressed in the shortest amount of time. This means that people, who pay more attention to angry faces, are at bigger risk. This also means that risk of getting depression can be identified by simple factor of mostly noticed emotional expressions.

But what do these finding mean for people who suffer for depression? Well, knowing that paying more attention to angry faces puts people at greater risk of depression may help develop innovative therapies to treat people with depression. For example, to address such attention biases towards generally bad emotional expressions, computer programs and games are being used to retrain peoples’ attention. They have already shown promise in the treatment of anxiety and are now being tested as a treatment for depression. Lead author of the study Mary Woody said that it is “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”.

This new research showed that what we pay attention to in our everyday lives leaves a trace in our mental health. It is true that those who notice more bright and happy things in their lives have brighter moods and are generally happier themselves. This will also help to develop new therapies for those who have or recently had depression to change their attentional biases. This, additionally to current conventional treatment, will help people in great risk of depression greatly and will improve their quality of life.

Source: binghamton.edu

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