Brain waves show that clinically depressed children don’t respond to rewards the same way as other children do.
Previous research from the same group of scientists found that a reduced ability to experience joy is a key sign of clinical depression in young children. The findings in the new study could help explain the biological underpinnings of the earlier discovery.
“These findings may show us how the brain processes emotions in young children with depression,” says senior investigator Joan L. Luby, director of Washington University’s Early Emotional Development Program. “The pleasure we derive from rewards—such as toys and gifts—motivates us to succeed and seek more rewards.
“Dampening the process early in development is a serious concern because it may carry over to how a person will approach rewarding tasks later in life.”
“A blunted response to reward frequently is seen in the brains of depressed adults and adolescents,” says first author Andrew C. Belden, an assistant professor of child psychiatry. “In this study, we were interested in learning whether preschoolers also had that blunted response to reward, and in fact, the brains of children as young as 4 showed very similar responses.
“That’s consistent with other findings in that many neurobehavioral aspects of depression remain consistent throughout the lifespan.”