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Surprising Science

Brain Games that Prevent Depression

Two simple pieces of brain-training software have successfully been used to stave off depression before it starts by showing individuals how to recognize positive mental states. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Two brain-training games tested at Stanford University have proven remarkably successful at preventing depression in at-risk teenagers before it starts. In one game, girls could see an MRI scan of their brain while they were shown sad or negative pictures. Seeing which regions of the brain were activated, they were told to try and adopt a more sanguine mental state and later, to try to recreate that mental state in their daily lives. The other game, which replaced a green dot with a happy face, trained the girls to look away from negative emotion. 

What’s the Big Idea?

The teens, girls aged 10 to 14 years, were considered at-risk because their mothers suffer from depression and the girls had already demonstrated a tendency to “amplify” unpleasant information. What the Stanford research shows is that, using knowledge of how the brain responds to certain stimuli, our ability to transform our own mental states is very powerful. And while we typically think our moods are legitimate responses to our environment, oftentimes the power of suggestion is enough to neutralize depression. 


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