Brain Training Game to Prevent Depression

Two main factors are involved in the etiopathogenesis of all disorders, genetics and the environment. Genes provide the platform upon which the environment acts to manifest in a given state of health. Genetics are something one cannot help, once born with a set of genes they are part of you for as long as you live. However the environment is very malleable, depending much on the lifestyle of an individual. This stands true for depression too. So how do we use this information to reduce the risk of depression in individuals with a family history of depression? Scientists at Stanford University have done just this using a simple brain training game that is based on the concept of attentional-bias training. The study led by Ian Gotlib involved a group of girls aged between 10 and 14 years whose mothers suffered from depression. Though these girls hadn’t yet experienced any depressive episode they were found to already have a tendency to react excessively to negative emotional stimuli which is common to people suffering from depression. The goal of the study was to see if playing a simple computer game would help them unlearn this negative bias. The game was designed to have a pair of faces show up on the computer screen every few seconds. One of these faces would be neutral while the other would be portraying either sadness or happiness. Then one of the faces would be replaced by a green dot and the girls had to click on the dot. In a control group the dot replaced the faces at random while in the experimental group the dot always replaced the more positive face of the pair. In effect in the experimental group the girls were being trained to look away from the sad faces, essentially avoiding them. The conclusion from the study was that the training reduced stress-related responses to negative stimuli. This was characterized by a reduction in increased heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels. These markers for depression along with defensive responses were reduced one week after training, hence making it a quick and effectual means of reducing the risk of depression by unlearning negative biases involved in the development of depression.

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