Angry faces may forecast mental health risk

From ABC News in Science, 5 February 2015:

Our brain’s reaction to pictures of angry or fearful faces could help predict our risk of developing depression or anxiety in response to stressful life events, a new study suggests.

Researchers used MRI scans to examine activity levels in a part of the brain associated with our fear response — called the amygdala — when 340 healthy young students were shown images of angry or fearful faces.

The students were then contacted online regularly for at least the next year to report on their mood and any stressful experiences.

According to results published today in Neuron , the students who showed greater brain activity in response to the images also showed a greater vulnerability to psychological stress brought on by events such as the death of a friend, a parent losing a job, or being in a car accident.

Lead author Dr Johnna Swartz, a post-doctoral associate at Duke University says the findings could help improve our ability to identify people most at risk of these mental illnesses.

“We’re just not very good at predicting who’s going to develop depression and anxiety,” Swartz says.

“We know some of the major risk factors; we know for example that childhood maltreatment, having a family history of the disorder and stressful life events are risk factors, and many people experience these but only a subset go on to develop the disorder.” Read more.

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