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Neuropsychologia. 2008 Oct;46(12):2896-903. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.05.030. Epub 2008 Jun 12.

Risk for depression is associated with neural biases in emotional categorisation.

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  • 1Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, UK.


Negative biases in emotional processing are a major characteristic of depression. Recent research has shown that such negative biases are evident in high risk individuals even in the absence of personal history of depression, suggesting that they may serve as key vulnerability markers of depression. However, the neural basis of these behavioural observations has not been fully explored. This study therefore aimed to (1) illustrate the neural processes involved in the categorisation of emotional personality-trait words; and (2) examine whether these neural mechanisms are biased towards negative information in high risk individuals. Risk for depression was defined by high neuroticism (N). We recruited a sample of high risk (high N) and low risk (low N) never-depressed young adults. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was acquired during the categorisation and memory for positive and negative self-referent personality-trait words (e.g. honest, rude). High risk volunteers showed greater responses in the right superior parietal cortex than low risk volunteers specifically during the categorisation of negative words. Moreover, neuroticism score was positively correlated with neural responses in the left anterior cingulate during the categorisation of negative words but negatively correlated within the same region during the retrieval of these words. These results highlight a role of the fronto-parietal circuitry in emotional processing and further suggest that negative biases in these neural processes may be involved in risk for depression.

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