What's the Root of Pessimism?

Mental health issues like depression and anxiety are known as neuropsychiatric disorders. These kinds of disorders often cause individuals to experience negative moods which can lead to an entire slough of negative effects, including poor decision making and focusing heavily on the downside of all given situations instead of seeing any positive benefit.

What scientists at MIT have been working hard to identify was that the animals continued to have poor decision making even after the stimulation earlier in the day. Scientists hope that with a new understanding, they can focus on understanding more about the effects of depression and zero in on new and effective treatments.

There are so many people who deal with mental health disorders who are still not being treated properly or with a method that works for them.

Researchers wanted to investigate a specific type of decision making called approach-avoidance decision making which involved weighing the options of a decision by thinking about the positive or negative implications of it. For some reason, this type of decision making is often anxiety inducing for many people.

People dealing with depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder tend to focus on the negative and it causes them to make poor decisions. Scientists were attempting to recreate this in a lab with animal testing by stimulating the caudate nucleus and giving animals the option of accepting a reward that came with an adverse effect like juice with a puff of air blown into the animal’s face.

Essentially, when the ratio of benefit to risk was too low, they animals would reject it while accepting the ones with higher risk. Like scientists thought, eventually the animals began to see the adverse effect as too much and not want the reward anymore.

With scientists excited about their findings, they’re working closely with psychiatrists to develop their next steps.

N.D. “Neuroscientists Get at the Roots of Pessimism”. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (website). 2018
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