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Depressed children respond differently to rewards than other kids

For many children, December often is linked to presents and excitement, but when a young child doesn't seem all that enthused about getting gifts, it could be a sign that something is wrong. Measuring brain waves, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found 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," said senior investigator Joan L. Luby, MD, 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."


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