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This Weird Test Could Predict Anxiety and Depression

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Does this woman's face scare you? Make you nervous? Turns out, 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, finds new research published in the journal Neuron. (Being scared isn't always bad—find out when Being Scared Is a Good Thing.)

Scientists showed participants photos of faces that have been previously shown to trigger threat-related brain activity and recorded their fear responses using a MRI. Those individuals 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 events. In the months and years following the MRI test, participants completed surveys every three months to report their mood and any stressful life events. The people who had greater fear response during the initial testing showed greater symptoms of depression and anxiety in response to stress for up to four years in the future.

The findings could help predict and even prevent mental illness in people and help scientists and doctors develop treatments that target the amygdala. Proof that a picture really is worth a thousand words? We think so. (Feeling stressed? Try these 6 Foods to Boost Your Mood.)


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