Oxytocin Not Just For Cuddling Anymore – Now Linked with Anxiety & Bad Memories

The Many Faces of Oxytocin…Augments Bad Memories, Fear and Anxiety as well as Promotes Bonding and Trust

July 22, 2013 — The ‘love hormone’ oxytocin has been all the rage in scientific circles for several years due to it’s involvement in trust, single pair bonding, friendship and love. Yet, recent research seems to indicate that the neurotransmitter, oxytocin, can also strengthen negative memories and increase the intensity of anxiety and fear. This is an entirely new role being uncovered for the fan favorite neurotransmitter.

Negative social situations, such as being the target of bullying, getting yelled at by the boss or embarrassed by a teacher, seem to be reinforced and strengthened by oxytocin. And perhaps, oxytocin may be part of the trigger for dread – anticipatory worry – and anxiety. This comes at a time when oxytocin is being studied for use as an anti-anxiety agent.

The reason is that oxytocin seems to strengthen our social memories – positve AND negative – in one particular region of the brain, according to researchers at Northwestern University.

If a social experience is negative or stressful, oxytocin seems to activate an area of the brain that intensifies that memory. Further, it seems to increase the odds of feeling dread and anxiety in anticipation of future stressful events.

Ongoing research seems to indicate that oxytocin also augments positive social memories and, thus, intensifies feelings of well being as well.

The findings are critical as chronic stress is one of the primary causes of anxiety and depression, while positive social interactions lead to emotional health.

“By understanding the oxytocin system’s dual role in triggering or reducing anxiety, depending on the social context, we can optimize oxytocin treatments that improve well-being instead of triggering negative reactions,” stated Jelena Radulovic, the lead author of the study at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The paper was published July 21 in Nature Neuroscience.

Oxytocin is famous for it’s involvement in mothers and breastfeeding

This is the first and only research to link oxytocin to social stress and its apparent role in increasing anxiety and dread in anticipation of future stress. Northwestern scientists also discovered the brain region responsible for these effects — the lateral septum — and the pathway or route oxytocin uses in this area to amplify fear and anxiety.

The scientists discovered that oxytocin strengthens negative social memory and future anxiety by triggering an important signaling molecule — ERK (extracellular signal regulated kinases) — that becomes activated for six hours after a negative social experience. ERK causes enhanced fear, Radulovic believes, by stimulating the brain’s fear pathways, many of which pass through the lateral septum. The region is involved in emotional and stress responses.

The findings surprised the researchers, who were expecting oxytocin to modulate positive emotions in memory, based on its long association with love and social bonding.

“Oxytocin is usually considered a stress-reducing agent based on decades of research,” said Yomayra Guzman, a doctoral student in Radulovic’s lab and the study’s lead author. “With this novel animal model, we showed how it enhances fear rather than reducing it and where the molecular changes are occurring in our central nervous system.’

The new research follows three recent human studies with oxytocin, all of which are beginning to offer a more complicated view of the hormone’s role in emotions.

All the new experiments were done in the lateral septum. This region has the highest oxytocin levels in the brain and has high levels of oxytocin receptors across all species from mice to humans.

“This is important because the variability of oxytocin receptors in different species is huge,” Radulovic said. “We wanted the research to be relevant for humans, too.”

Oxytocin involved in fear, stress and anxiety as well as trust

Experiments with mice in the study established that

1) oxytocin is essential for strengthening the memory of negative social interactions and

2) oxytocin increases fear and anxiety in future stressful situations.

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach, Expert consultant for Pixar

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought (for a free PDF copy, visit Guide to Self and click on the book icon on the left of the page)

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

(925) 575-0258

GuideToSelf.com – Web site

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DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com –  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

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@johnschin – Twitter

Journal Reference:

  1. Yomayra F Guzmán, Natalie C Tronson, Vladimir Jovasevic, Keisuke Sato, Anita L Guedea, Hiroaki Mizukami, Katsuhiko Nishimori, Jelena Radulovic. Fear-enhancing effects of septal oxytocin receptors. Nature Neuroscience, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nn.3465


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

How Do We Make Sense of the Irrational? Emotions, Moods and Temperaments as Dramatic Theater!

How Can I Be Happy? Learn Positive Psychology and How Your Mind Works…

By John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Guide to Self

Emotional power is maybe the most valuable thing that an actor can have. Christopher Walken

The most embarrassing, shameful, stupidest things I’ve done in my life occurred when my emotional mind was in charge of me…angry, anxious, excited, doubting. As a result, I’ve spent 25 years studying ways to manage my emotional mind.

Analogies are a powerful means to help us understand the emotional mind. One of the best analogies to help you understand your mind – the relationship between emotions, moods, thoughts and temperament is that of an intense broadway play.

If you think of your emotional life as a play on stage, emotions are the actors that move quickly around the stage, speaking in short and energetic bursts. Each of the actors temporarily acts out the role of an emotion such as anger, surprise, or contentment. The actors temporarily embody emotions that are positive, negative or neutral.

How Can I Be Happy? Learn positive psychology coaching w John Schinnerer PhD
The Mind is Like a Broadway Play

Perhaps most importantly, you can feel more than one emotion simultaneously, just as if you have several actors on stage at once. There are layers of emotions…afraid of your anger, guilty about your lust, curious about your pride, and so on.

As an actor, there is room for a certain amount of creativity, but you’re always ultimately going to be saying somebody else’s words. – Daniel Radcliffe


One theory of emotions is that they are action scripts that have been around for millions of years. Intense emotions, such as rage, dictate how one responds to certain situations. In a very real sense, you are ‘saying somebody else’s words.’


The actor is in the hands of a lot of other people, over which he has no control.  William Shatner

Emotions are often experienced as a loss of control, something over which we have no control. Many clients have told me that anger overtook them in less than a second. Some have said that they don’t remember what they did while angry. Others have shared that it felt as if they were possessed.

Emotions are short in duration, lasting seconds to minutes. Emotions have a cause such as losing a family pet (grief) or observing earth from space (awe).  And emotions have visceral, bodily sensations associated with them (e.g., throat constriction, heart rate increase, perspiration, shoulders pulled back, chin elevation, etc.).

Moods are like individual elements of scenery that are rolled on and off the stage with each scene. The scenic elements “set the stage” for the scene. The scenic elements may create an ominous and scary setting. Or they may create a peaceful, sunny and relaxed environment. The scenic elements change every act and may change many times during the course of the play. Moods are like emotions stretched thin over time. For example, anger stretched thin is irritability. Fear stretched thin is anxiety. Happiness stretched thin is contentment.

Moods don’t typically have a cause. They just are. Some days you wake up in a stressful ‘scene’ and other days a pleasant one.

Temperament is the large screen that serves as the background for the entire first act or the entire play. The backdrop separates the front of the stage, where the play takes place, from backstage, and the area where many activities are happening at a rapid pace to create the illusion of reality out on stage. Temperament ranges from pessimistic to optimistic.

The director is like the rational, thinking mind who has some control over the direction of the actors and the play. The good news is that the director can learn to have greater influence over the actors in the heat of the moment. Yet even the director can be overcome with emotion at times. And when the director loses her cool, it’s best to yell ‘cut’ and take a break so everyone can start anew.

About the Author

John Schinnerer, Ph.D., an expert in positive psychology, is revolutionizing the way in which people make sense of the mind, behavior and emotion. In December of 2011, he was one of three emotion experts (along with Paul Ekman and Dacher Keltner) to consult with Pixar on a feature-length movie in which the main characters are emotions. Much of his time is spent in private practice teaching clients the latest ways to turn down the volume on negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and stress. He has developed a unique coaching methodology which combines the best aspects of entertainment, humor, positive psychology and emotional management techniques. His offices are in Danville, California. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley Summa Cum Laude with a Ph.D. in educational psychology.  He has been an executive, speaker and coach for over 14 years.  He hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a daily prime time radio show, in the SF Bay Area.    He wrote the award-winning book, ‘Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,’ which is available at Amazon.com.  His blog, Shrunken Mind, was recently recognized as one of the top 3 in positive psychology on the web (drjohnblog.guidetoself.com ). His new video blog teaches people the latest ways to manage anger using positive psychology. (WebAngerManagement.com). He is currently working on a destination site to teach individuals paths to sustainable happiness via positive psychology and ongoing practice at HowICanBeHappy.com.

how can i be happy
John Schinnerer, Ph.D. … Positive psychology coach… San Ramon Valley, Danville CA 94526


Can You Learn to Manage Your Mind?

This is a recent article by a research hero of mine, Richie Davidson, one of the premier neuropsychology researchers in the world…

Originally Published on Big Questions Online (https://www.bigquestionsonline.com)


Can You Learn to Control Your Mind?

Richard Davidson February 19, 2013

Many people believe that it is not necessary to learn to control one’s own mind because they think they already have such control.  Others, based on casual introspection and analysis of forces constantly impinging upon our minds, believe that we will never have control of our own minds and that such control is simply an illusion, though it may well be an illusion with important adaptive consequences.  The view the question invites is somewhat more nuanced.  It asks whether we can learn to control our mind, and thus assumes that there is a gradient of control ranging from little to more, and that individuals may vary in where they fall along this continuum.  Further, it implies that control of one’s mind is a skill and as with other skills, it can be trained. 

When we refer to controlling our mind what do we typically mean?  If you are reading this essay, you can say to yourself that I can decide to stop reading this at any moment and get up and get a drink of water.  This is a form of controlling one’s mind.  Does the control of one’s mind require that we control our overt action, as in this example?  What about the control of attention, or the control of emotion?  To varying degrees, each one of you can decide to direct your attention to your right foot and to notice the sensations that are present in this body location.  You might notice tingling or pressure or warmth and you can isolate these sensations to your right foot, with varying degrees of success. 

Do we emerge at birth endowed with this ability?  Or does this ability develop over the course of maturation?  Is it associated with the development of specific circuits in the brain?  To what degree are individual differences in this ability present early in life and what environmental and genetic influences modulate this ability?  These are all important questions that bear on the larger issue of whether we can learn to control our mind.  To address these questions requires that we consult scientific findings in a diverse range of areas that indirectly bear on our central question. 

Insights from Developmental Considerations

Can newborns control their minds?  Most scholars considering this question would say no.  The requisite neural machinery has not yet matured for infants to exert voluntary control.  Their attention, for example, is captured rather than directed.  Their emotions are stimulus-driven and not voluntarily modulated.  It seems reasonable to assume that voluntary control of one’s mind requires that a requisite competence be available and that such competence maybe an innate potential of human beings in the same way that language is an innate potential, but it is not present at birth and requires the maturation of particular neural systems likely involving the prefrontal cortex. This brain region undergoes slow development and is not fully anatomically mature until the mid 20’s.  Insofar as the prefrontal cortex is critical to our capacity to control our mind, this fact suggests that there will be developmental changes in our capacity to control our mind that will not reach adult levels for quite some time, likely post-adolescence.

Default Mode of Brain Function, Mind Wandering and Voluntary Control

Neuroscientists noticed that when participants are given challenging cognitive tasks and activation patterns in response to the tasks were compared with a resting (uninstructed) control condition, not only are certain brain regions activated, but there were reliable de-activations in another set of brain regions.  In such brain imaging studies, a contrast between two conditions was performed to isolate brain activations specific to the task. These de-activations during the task indicate that those de-activated regions were more active during the resting period.  This provided the first clue that the brain “at rest” showed a lawful pattern of activations and this pattern has been referred to as the default mode.  The presence of such activity suggests that it is misleading to think that the brain is quiescent until a specific task activates it.  Indeed, even a mere casual introspection would suggest that there is a lot of endogenous mental activity occurring within the mind that seems to be there when we are not doing very much and pay attention to our interior dialogue.  Recent findings indicate that this “mental chatter” is associated with the default mode (Christoff, Gordon, Smallwood, Smith, & Schooler, 2009 [1]) and that such mental chatter is often self-focused rumination about the past and the future.  A recent study using experience-sampling measures (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010 [2]) reported that the average American adult spends 47% of their waking life mind wandering, that is not attending to the task at hand.  Moreover, these periods of mind wandering were accompanied by reports of unhappiness.  Killingsworth and Gilbert conclude that “…a human mind is a wandering mind and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.  The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”  Is this an obligatory state of affairs?  Can we learn to mind wander less and control our minds? Related Questions

These findings imply that we are not in control of our minds for a significant fraction of our waking lives since mind wandering is typically reported as a process that is involuntary.  Our minds wander.  We do not usually choose to engage in mind wandering. 

Individual Differences

The research mentioned above on mind wandering suggests that people differ in how much their minds wander.  The flip side of mind wandering is mental control and these findings indicate that some people have more control than others (Heatherton, 2011 [3]).  In studies of the default mode of brain function, scientists have discovered that people who report mind wandering have greater activation in sectors of the default mode that are particularly implicated in narrative self-relevant processes.  The fact of such individual differences raises the possibility that some of these variations among people might have arisen, at least in part, as a consequence of learning. 

Training the Mind Can Improve One’s Ability to Control the Mind

In his very famous chapter on attention in the Principles of Psychology, William James (1890) stated:

“And the faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is compos sui if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical directions for bringing it about.”

Educating attention is a core feature of controlling one’s mind.  If we can effectively control our attention, many other aspects of mental control will follow.  We can view the control of attention as a core foundation upon which other aspects of mental control are based, such as the control of emotions. 

What is the evidence that we can learn to control our attention?  Here the technologies provided by the meditative traditions which fundamentally concern the training of attention, are noteworthy.  Hard-nosed behavioral and neuroscientific research over the past 5 years has clearly established the possibility of training different aspects of attention through simple mindfulness meditation practices.  These practices generalize to standard tasks for assessing subcomponents of attention and they are associated with alterations in brain function.  One example from our own research concerns the learning of selective attention—the ability to focus on a chosen object and to ignore other distracting objects.  We (Lutz et al., 2009 [4]) tested participants before and after an intensive three-month retreat during which they practiced mindfulness meditation on a daily basis and compared them to a control group just learning these practices.  We found a significant improvement in the meditators ability to selectively attention to stimuli compared with the control group.  Moreover, these behavioral changes were predicted by specific changes in prefrontal brain function that was measured before and after the three-month retreat.

These findings suggest that we can indeed learn to control our attention and by extension, learn to control our mind.  Findings such as this lead us to the view that controlling the mind should best be regarded as a skill that can be enhanced through training.

Summary and Conclusions

The ability to control the mind differs across development and varies among individuals.  The developmental differences provide us with clues about the necessary neural machinery that is required to come “on-line” that is a prerequisite for controlling the mind.  Sectors of the prefrontal cortex appear critical to this process and are not fully mature until the mid 20’s.  Adult individuals also vary considerably in their ability to control the mind.  Such differences likely are due to a myriad of factors including genetic and experiential influences.  Mind wandering is the flip side of mind control and appears to occur involuntarily.  It is associated with the default mode of brain function and is frequently accompanied by reports of dysphoric affect, perhaps a consequence of not paying attention to the task at hand. 

This state of affairs, while typical of the average adult in our society, is not obligatory and this essay invites the view that we all can indeed learn to control our minds.  Humans are endowed with the capacity to learn to control their minds and such learning should be accompanied by a decrease in mind wandering and by corresponding changes in brain function in the default mode.  The ability to attend to the present moment in the absence of distraction appears to be intrinsically rewarding and people report increases in positive affect when this occurs.  Many humans seem to have a propensity to place themselves in difficult and/or dangerous situations in order to fully capture their attention, which effectively, though transiently, eliminates mind wandering.  Often referred to as “flow”, people report that such experiences are highly positive. 

An important implication of the perspective advanced in this essay is that we do not need to place ourselves in such difficult and dangerous situations to experience flow.  The quality of awareness characterized by being fully present in the moment is a skill that can be learned and does not require a specific context or challenge to be expressed.  In light of the known sensitive periods for neuroplasticity early in life, this perspective invites the suggestion of implementing training for mental control in the early years of life, as the prefrontal cortex is developing.  Such early training may take advantage of the increased neuroplasticity evident at this time and lead to more enduring changes in our ability to control our minds.  Research focused on this question is critically needed and if the outcome is as implied here, the findings would provide an important foundation for a call to include within the regular preschool and elementary school curriculum, methods to train the mind in such ways.  The modest investment in the mental capacity of our children will likely pay off in a multiplicative way later in life as a consequence of improved adult outcomes based upon this early life training.  The possibility of such an outcome demands that we marshal the resources to subject it to serious scientific test.

Questions for Discussion:

At what age can children start learning to control their minds?

Why do people mostly report unpleasant emotions when they are mind wandering?

Are some people better able to learn to control their minds than others?

What are the most effective strategies to teach people to learn to control their minds?

How is neuroplasticity related to the ability to control our mind?



Source URL: https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/content/can-you-learn-control-your-mind

[1] http://www.pnas.org/content/106/21/8719.full
[2] http://www.sciencemag.org/content/330/6006/932.abstract
[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3056504/
[4] http://www.jneurosci.org/content/29/42/13418
[5] https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/tags/mind
[6] https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/tags/meditation
[7] https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/tags/self-control
[8] https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/tags/habits
[9] https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/tags/mindfulness-meditation
[10] https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/topics/behavior

Have a fantastic day,


John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

GuideToSelf.comWeb site

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer


Do Anxious Men Make Lousy Fathers? Happy Father’s Day?

From ScienceDaily (June 13, 2012) — Normally, male California mice are surprisingly doting fathers, but new research published in the journal Physiological and Biochemical Zoology suggests that high anxiety can turn these good dads bad.

Unlike most rodents, male and female California mice pair up for life with males providing extensive parental care, helping deliver the pups, lick them clean, and keep them warm during their first few weeks of life. Experienced fathers are so paternal that they’ll even take care of pups that aren’t theirs. “If we place a male California mouse in a test cage and present it with an unknown pup, experienced fathers will quickly start to lick and huddle with it,” said Trynke de Jong, a post-doctoral researcher at University of California, Riverside.

Inexperienced males, on the other hand, aren’t always so loving. “Virgin males show more variability,” de Jong explained. “They may behave paternally, or they may ignore the pup, or even attack it. We want to understand what triggers these three behavioral responses in virgin males.”

De Jong and her colleagues thought this variability might have something to do with social status. In other species — including another rodent, Mongolian gerbils — dominant virgin males are more likely than subordinate ones to kill pups. Perhaps social status influences parenting in California mice as well.

To test this, de Jong and her colleagues paired up 12 virgin males in six enclosures, and performed several tests to see which was dominant. First was a food competition. “If a cornflake is dropped in the cage, the more dominant male will manage to eat most of it,” de Jong said. The researchers also observed each mouse’s urine marking. “Dominant males will make more, smaller, and more widespread marks than subordinate males,” said de Jong

After determining the mightier mouse in each pair, the team tested parental behavior by introducing a pup. Contrary to the hypothesis, scores on the dominance tests did not predict whether a male licked or huddled up to the pup. However, the research did turn up signs that anxiety, not status, plays a role in paternal behavior.

Males who shied away from urinating the middle of a new enclosure — a behavioral signal that a mouse is anxious — were slower to approach a pup. Further tests showed that less paternal males had higher levels of the vasopressin in their brains. Vasopressin is a hormone that is strongly associated with stress and anxiety.

“Our findings support the theory that vasopressin may alter the expression of paternal behavior depending on the emotional state of the animal,” de Jong said. She believes these results could shed light on the role of stress in paternal care in other mammals — including humans.



John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

GuideToSelf.comWeb site

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com –  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Chicago Press Journals, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

New Tool for Depression – Focus on Positive Future Expectations

For years, I’ve been teaching clients simple frameworks to manage the emotional mind. These frameworks have to be accessible within 1/3rd of a second, before the emotional mind hijacks the rational mind.

A powerful example of this is the framework developed by Phillip Zimbardo at Stanford regarding time perspectives and valence, which is a fancy way of saying that our attention can take you certain places – internal (e.g., monitoring your heart rate, your thoughts) or external (e.g., the room you are in, the people you are with); past, present or future; and/or positive or negative emphasis.

From Ken Pope’s excellent newsletter…

*CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics* has scheduled an article for publication in a future issue: “Treating Major Depression by Creating Positive Expectations for the Future: A Pilot Study for the Effectiveness of Future-Directed Therapy (FDT) on Symptom Severity and Quality of Life.”

The authors are Jennice S. Vilhauer, Sabrina Young, Chanel Kealoha, Josefine Borrmann, Waguih W. IsHak, Mark H. Rapaport, Narineh Hartoonian, & Jim Mirocha.

Here’s the abstract:

[begin excerpt]

Introduction: This nonrandomized pilot study assesses the efficacy of a new future-oriented form of therapy, known as future-directed therapy (FDT), as a treatment for patients with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in a naturalistic hospital-based outpatient psychiatry clinic. The study measured symptom severity of depression and anxiety, in addition to quality of life pre- and posttreatment.

Aims: The study examined a new manualized treatment designed to help people anticipate a more positive future. The intervention consists of twenty 90-min group sessions administered twice a week over 10 weeks. The intervention was compared to depressed patients in the same clinic who enrolled in traditional cognitive-based group psychotherapy. Sixteen patients with MDD completed the FDT intervention as part of their outpatient treatment for depression. Seventeen patients with MDD participated in treatment as usual (TAU) cognitive-based group therapy. The Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptoms, the Beck Anxiety Inventory, and the Quality-of-Life Enjoyment and Satisfaction Questionnaire short form, self-report instruments were administered prior to and immediately after the completion of therapy.

Results: Patients treated with FDT demonstrated significant improvements in depression (P= 0.001), anxiety (P= 0.021) and quality of life (P= 0.035), and also reported high satisfaction with the therapy. Compared to the TAU group, patients treated with FDT showed greater improvements in depressive symptoms (P= 0.049).

Conclusions: FDT may have the potential of becoming an additional treatment option for patients with MDD.

[end excerpt]

On the Cedars-Sinai (where the research was conducted) web site there was the following additional information:

[begin Cedars-Sinai info]

Patients with major depression do better by learning to create a more positive outlook about the future, rather than by focusing on negative thoughts about their past experiences, researchers at Cedars-Sinai say after developing a new treatment that helps patients do this.

While Major Depressive Disorder patients traditionally undergo cognitive-behavior therapy care that seeks to alter their irrational, negative thoughts about past experiences, patients who were treated with the newly-developed Future-Directed Therapy(TM) demonstrated significant improvement in depression and anxiety, as well as improvement in overall reported quality of life, the researchers found.

Results were published recently in the peer-reviewed journal CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics.

“Recent imaging studies show that depressed patients have reduced functioning in the regions of the brain responsible for optimism,” said Jennice Vilhauer, PhD, study author and clinical director of Adult Outpatient Programs for the Cedars-Sinai Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences. “Also, people with depression tend to have fewer skills to help them develop a better future. They have less ability to set goals, problem solve or plan for future events.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated one in 10 American adults meet the diagnostic criteria for depression.

Anand Pandya, MD, interim chair of Cedars-Sinai’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, said, “Future-Directed Therapy is designed to reduce depression by teaching people the skills they need to think more positively about the future and take the action required to create positive future experiences.  This is the first study that demonstrates this intervention intended to increase positive expectations about the future can reduce symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder.”

Depression in Men depressed guys

When people talk only about the negative aspects of their lives, it causes them to focus more attention on what makes them unhappy, Vilhauer said.

“Talking about what makes you unhappy in life doesn’t generate the necessary thinking patterns or action needed to promote a state of thriving and create a more positive future,” Vilhauer said.  “Future-Directed Therapy helps people shift their attention constructing visions of what they want more of in the future and it helps them develop the skills that they will need to eventually get there.”

In the study conducted at Cedars-Sinai, 16 adult patients diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder attended future-directed group therapy sessions led by a licensed psychologist twice a week for 10 weeks.  Each week, patients read a chapter from a Future-Directed Therapy manual and completed worksheets aimed at improving certain skills, such as goal-setting.  Another group of 17 patients diagnosed with depression underwent standard cognitive group therapy. The study team measured the severity of depression and anxiety symptoms, and quality of life before and after treatment, using the Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptoms, the Beck Anxiety Inventory, and the Quality-of-Life Enjoyment and Satisfaction Questionnaire short form.

Results include:

Patients in the Future-Directed Therapy group experienced on average a 5.4 point reduction in their depressive symptoms on the Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptoms scale, compared to a two point reduction in the cognitive therapy group.

Patients in the Future-Directed Therapy group on average reported a 5.4 point reduction in anxiety symptoms on the Beck Anxiety Inventory, compared to a reduction of 1.7 points in the cognitive therapy group.

Patients in the Future-Directed Therapy group reported on average an 8.4 point improvement in their self-reported quality of life on the Quality of Life Enjoyment and Satisfaction scale, compared to a 1.2 point improvement in the cognitive therapy group.

[end Cedars-Sinai info]

The author note provides the following contact information: Jennice Vilhauer, Ph.D., Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, 8730 W. Alden Drive, Thalians W-101, Los Angeles, CA, USA. Tel.: +(310) 423-2620; Fax: +(310) 423-0114; E-mail: