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Front. Psychiatry | doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00062

Electrophysiological evidence for elimination of the positive bias in elderly adults with depressive symptoms

  • 1Institute of Psychology (CAS), China
  • 2Institute of Psychology, Tianjin Medical University, China
  • 3Universitätsklinik für Hör-, Stimm- und Sprachstörungen, Medizinische Universität Innsbruck, Austria

Background: Depressed populations demonstrate a greater tendency to have negative interpretations on ambiguous situations. Cognitive theories concerning depression proposed that such a negative bias plays an important role in developing and maintaining depression. There is now fairly consistent evidence arising from different stimuli and assessment methods that depression is featured by such a bias. The current study aimed to explore the neuronal signatures associated with the interpretation bias in the elderly with depressive symptoms confronted with different facial expressions using event-related brain potentials (ERPs).
Methods: Participants were 14 community-dwelling older adults with depressive symptoms assessed by the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale (CES-D) scores. We collected event-related potentials of their brain compared to that of 14 healthy aged-matched adults. The late positive potential (LPP) was used to examine cognitive-affective processes associated with judgment of emotional facial expressions between the two groups.
Results: Old adults with depressive symptoms have much smaller amplitude than healthy older adults irrespective of the prime types. When processing the targets, the two groups showed different patterns regarding the LPP. The healthy control group revealed no differences between ambiguous and happy primes, irrespective of whether the targets were sad or happy facial expressions. However, significant differences were found between happy and sad and between ambiguous and sad primes. Such a pattern indicates a positive bias in healthy elderly adults. Regarding the elderly with depressive symptoms, there were no significant differences between ambiguous versus happy, ambiguous versus sad primes, and happy versus sad primes. Concerning reaction times, there was no group difference. Thus, the findings provide some support for cognitive theories of depression.
Conclusions: The current study shows that there is an association between interpretative biases and depressive symptoms in the elderly by using the neuroscientific method of event-related potentials. The results suggest that ERPs are sensitive to explore the interpretation bias in depressed populations.

Keywords: elderly with depressive symptoms, cognitive theories of depression, positive bias, Event-Related Brain Potentials, Late positive potential (LPP)

Received: 24 Nov 2017; Accepted: 13 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

Wenbin Guo, Second Xiangya Hospital, Central South University, China

Reviewed by:

Xuhai Chen, Key Laboratory of Behavior and Cognitive Psychology in Shaanxi Province, School of Psychology, Shaanxi Normal University, China
Wenguang He, Qufu Normal University, China  

Copyright: © 2018 Zhou, Dai, Rossi and Li. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Juan Li, Institute of Psychology (CAS), Beijing, China,