Study Indicates Brain Activity After Trauma May Predict Mental Health in the Long-Term

According to a study recently published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Brain Activity after suffering from a traumatic event may help predict long-term mental health.

Jennifer Stevens, Ph.D. of Emory University in collected and analyzed data from 69 participants who were received at an emergency department following a car crash. This is part of the AURORA study that monitored more than 3,000 trauma survivors for up to a year after their accidents. Stevens initially hypothesized that different patterns of stress-related brain activity may help predict mental health symptoms in the long term, specifically after the occurrence of a traumatic event.

The brain activity of the participants was measured two weeks after the accidents using a functional MRI. The participants were asked to complete computer-based tasks to study their reactions to threat cues, reward cues, and impulsiveness.

In addition, the participants were asked to complete surveys where they reported any symptoms of depression, anxiety, or PTSD over the six months following the accident.

The findings showed that participants tended to fit four different profiles based on their responses. Some reacted highly to threats, while others were more reactive when rewarded. Overall, the four profiles found are reactive/disinhibited, high reward, low reward/high threat, and inhibited.

The same analysis was then performed on a group of 77 participants who had also experienced traumatic events. However, this trauma was not limited to car crashes. The results showed the presence of three profiles out of four this time around. These include reactive/disinhibited, low reward/high threat, and inhibited.

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) said that “the link between high reward reactivity (as part of the reactive/disinhibited profile) and long-term symptoms was unexpected, as previous studies indicate an association between low reward reactivity and post-trauma PTSD and depression”.

After studying the different brain activity profiles and comparing the results from the surveys, Stevens concluded that reactive/disinhibited participants reported higher levels of mental health symptoms. These symptoms were linked to both PTSD and anxiety. On the other hand, there was no link between any of the brain profiles to other mental health issues such as depression and impulsivity.

While these results are impressive, further research and investigation must be done to confirm these findings. Perhaps, more evidence to support this theory could surface in upcoming experiments with larger sample sizes.

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