A new study has found that certain brain patterns in newborns are accurate predictors of depression and anxiety later in life.
Researchers hope this will help us care for kids’ mental health from a much earlier age.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, assessed the brains of a group of full-term and pre-term newborns, via MRI scan, The Huffington Post reports.
The research was seeking to discover if there was any difference between how the full-term and pre-term babies’ brains worked, and what this meant.
Researchers were also particularly interested in how the brain’s fear and pleasure centre, the amygdala, and other parts of the brain responded to each other.
What they found was that certain connections and interactions between parts of the brain (the amygdala, the insula and the medial prefrontal cortex) were indicators of a higher risk of depression and anxiety at age 2.
While they’d expected there to be a difference between how pre-term and full-term babies’ brains fired, they found that they had fairly similar patterns, with the strength of the pre-term babies’ brain signals lagging only slightly behind.
(Even then, the pre-term babies brain patterns varied from bub to bub.)
Lead study author, Dr. Cynthia Rogers, a child psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis, spoke to The Huffington Post about her team’s discovery of these anxiety and depression-predicting brain patterns.
“Our study is one of the first to detect these functional differences in amygdala connectivity at birth relating to early symptoms,” Dr Rogers explained.
“The advantage of studying infants at birth is these patterns are not influenced by experiences they have had after birth.”
More work to do
Researchers hope to delve deeper into babies’ brain patterns and how they relate to mental health and wellbeing.
Ultimately, they’re seeking to find out more and develop ways to use these predictive patterns for nurturing early-intervention programs to tackle depression and anxiety from infancy.
“If we can understand what patterns of connectivity are related to early social and emotional impairments, we can then study what predicts those connectivity patterns,” Dr Rogers told The Huffington Post.
“We can evaluate whether there are experiences these children have while in the hospital or early in infancy that change these patterns for better or worse that we can aim to modify.”