Depressed brains are… depressed.

Washington University in St. Louis has been looking at depressed people’s brains – specifically the “default mode network,” a series of connections that link our internal selves with what we perceive around us – and they’ve found that depressed brains are really not like other people’s brains:

The work suggests individuals with depression may not be able to “lose themselves” in work, music, exercise or other activities that enable most healthy people to get “outside” of themselves.

“When healthy people engage in a very focused activity, they, in a sense, lose themselves,” said senior investigator Marcus E. Raichle, M.D., whose research group in 2001 first identified the default mode network. “If you really are engaged in something, you kind of forget yourself, and that loss of self corresponds to the deactivation we observe in brain scans of the default network. But that doesn’t seem to happen in the brains of people with depression.”

The research team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of 20 people with major depression as well as 21 individuals who were not depressed. None of the people in the study were being treated with antidepressant drugs at the time of their brain scans.

Once in the scanner, subjects were shown pictures designed to evoke emotion, from snarling dogs and violent scenes to pictures of flowers and smiling faces. …

Whether subjects simply reacted to the pictures or regulated their responses, brain regions in the default network became inactive as healthy participants looked at and responded to the pictures. Not so for those with depression.