10 October 2011
Depression is a very real physical phenomenon. The brains of depressed people are measurably different to those of non-depressed people and discovering the ways in which they are different can point to ways to cope, and deal, with depression. In a new finding it seems that the brain circuits involved in feeling hatred are affected in depressed people.
In 2008 researchers first identified three regions in the brain that become a connected circuit when people are shown pictures of people they hate. Those regions are the superior frontal gyrus, the insula, and the putamen. The firing of neurons connecting these areas has become known as the “hate circuit”. Now researchers from the University of Warwick have found that depression is connected to this hate circuit.
The researchers scanned brains of depressed and non-depressed people using a functional magnetic resonance image. The most significant difference that they found was that in depressed people the “hate circuit” is disconnected, and does not fire. In depressed people there is a 92 per cent likelihood that this disconnection will happen.
This is an interesting finding since it is known that people who are depressed are more likely to experience self-loathing but there is no evidence that depressed people are less likely to hate other people.
The researchers say that it might be that the disconnection of this hate circuit might result in an impaired ability to learn from situations that provoke hatred. In turn that might lead to an impaired ability to deal appropriately with feelings of hate and therefore increase the likelihood of self-loathing as well as withdrawal from social interactions.
There is a lot of conjecture in these conclusions and the working of the brain in depression, and overall, still remains full of mystery. Yet in findings such as these we perhaps have windows that allow us a glimpse that can take us a fraction closer to understanding such widespread and troubling conditions as depression.