Effects of Depression Modified by Anxiety, both Negatively and Positively

In people who are depressed and anxious, the negative effects of depression may be modified, positively or negatively, by anxiety.

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Lead author Anna S. Engels, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and fellow researchers used fMRI to examine the brain activity of patients who were depressed and not anxious, anxious but not depressed, or who exhibited varying degrees of depression and one or both of two types of anxiety—“

.” The brain scans were taken while participants were asked to name the colors of words that had negative, positive, or neutral meanings.

anxious arousal, the fearful vigilance that sometimes turns into panic; and anxious apprehension, better known as worry

Results revealed “that the fMRI signature of the brain of a worried and depressed person doing the emotional word task was very different from that of a vigilant or panicky depressed person.” In regard to the two groups of patients who were depressed, with one group that was also worried and another that was also fearful or vigilant, “the worriers also did better on the emotional word task than those depressives who were fearful or vigilant,” according to the researchers.

These results suggest that “fearful vigilance sometimes heightens the brain activity associated with depression, whereas worry may actually counter it, thus reducing some of the negative effects of depression and fear,” according to co-author Gregory A. Miller, professor of psychology, University of Illinois.

“It could be that having a particular type of anxiety will help processing in one part of the brain while at the same time hurting processing in another part of the brain,” Miller continued. “Sometimes worry is a good thing to do. Maybe it will get you to plan better. Maybe it will help you to focus better. There could be an up-side to these things.”

Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience

The study was published in

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In people who are depressed and anxious, the negative effects of depression may be modified, positively or negatively, by anxiety, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaignhave found