Given the remarkable value of brain-scanning research in reading problems, it is little surprise that people are interested in potential applications with other human behaviors and, especially, with emotional and behavioral disorders. However, progress in localizing functions related to depression, anxiety, and such have been slow in coming, according to a report by Benedict Carey in the New York Times.
Not long ago, scientists predicted that these images, produced by sophisticated brain-scanning techniques, would help cut through the mystery of mental illness, revealing clear brain abnormalities and allowing doctors to better diagnose and treat a wide variety of disorders. And nearly every week, it seems, imaging researchers announce another finding, a potential key to understanding depression, attention deficit disorder, anxiety.
Yet for a variety of reasons, the hopes and claims for brain imaging in psychiatry have far outpaced the science, experts say.
Nevertheless, there are encouraging glimpses of potential. In a study just presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers from the University of Illinois Chicago reported that they have mapped differences in the amygdala and cognitive regions of the brains of adolescents with and without bipolar disorder. The team found that youths with bipolar disorder had increased activation in the amygdala when shown words with negative associations and greater activity in parts of the brain associated with pleasure when shown words with positive associations. In contrast, for the non-disorded students, the cognitive areas of the brain were activated by words with positive and negative associations.
“This study is very exciting because it shows that negative emotions affect cognition differently than positive emotions in these kids,” said Dr. Mani Pavuluri, associate professor of psychiatry at UIC’s Institute for Juvenile Research and the Center for Cognitive Medicine, and lead author of the study.
Link to Mr. Carey’s story (registration required). Link to the UIC news release on the study by Pavuluri et al.