People with depression may have a harder time getting past social rejection, a recent study finds. PET scans of depressed people’s brains showed that the distress of rejection lasted longer for them than for healthy people.
“Every day we experience positive and negative social interactions. Our findings suggest that a depressed person’s ability to regulate emotions during these interactions is compromised,” said Dr. David Hsu of the University of Michigan Medical School.
Researchers presented mock online dating profiles to 17 depressed participants and 18 healthy participants and asked them to select people they found attractive. Then, while the participants were undergoing a PET brain scan, they were told that the people they selected did not reciprocate their feelings.
The brains of people with depression secreted less of the natural chemicals called opioids, which the body uses to reduce distress, than the healthy control group. This diminished opioid release was particularly noticeable in brain regions that deal with stress, mood and motivation.
The findings have already spurred plans for further research. “Everyone responds differently to their social environment,” said Hsu. “To help us understand who is most affected by social stressors, we’re planning to investigate the influence of genes, personality and environment on the brain’s ability to release opioids during rejection and acceptance.”
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