Your reaction to certain facial expressions could detect mental illness before it rises to the surface.

By Sara Angle
February 04, 2015

Take a look at the picture above: Does this woman come across as strong and empowered to you, or does she look angry? Perhaps seeing the photo makes you feel scared-maybe even nervous? Think about it, because scientists are now saying that your instinctual answer matters. In fact, this quick quiz may actually be a depression and anxiety stress test. (Ever Heard of Iceberg Stress? It's a Sneaky Kind of Stress and Anxiety That Could Be Ruining Your Day-to-Day.)

Recent research published in the journal Neuron revealed that your response to a photo of an angry or fearful face could predict if you're at an increased risk for depression or anxiety after stressful events. Scientists showed participants photos of faces that had been previously shown to trigger threat-related brain activity, and recorded their fear responses using MRI technology. Those who had a higher level of brain activity in their amygdala-a part of the brain where threat is detected and negative information is stored-self-reported being more likely to experience depression or anxiety after stressful life experiences. And the researchers didn't stop there: participants continued to fill out surveys every three months to report their mood. After review, the experts found that those who had greater fear response during the initial testing did in fact show greater symtpoms of depression and anxiety in response to stress for up to four years. (By the way, being scared isn't always a bad thing. Find Out When Being Scared Is a Good Thing.)

These findings are pretty groundbreaking, as they could help predict and even prevent mental illness. What's more, they may help scientists and doctors develop treatments that target the amygdala. Proof that a picture really is worth a thousand words? We think so. (PS: If You're Feeling Stressed, Try These Anxiety-Reducing Solutions for Common Worry Traps.)