Completed Studies in Data Analysis

The following studies have been completed and are in the data analysis phase. We are no longer enrolling research participants for these studies.

Family well being study

The goal of this study is to help us better understand how the brain works in preschoolers who are generally happy and those who are often sad or irritable. We are also interested in how family relationships and having a family history of depression might influence brain function in these young children.

To answer these questions, we asked children to take part in an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan that created pictures of their brain’s structure and let us see how their brain reacted when they  experienced something positive, like winning candy or watching a movie, or just when quietly resting. We asked parents to tell us about themselves, their child, and their family.

MRI is considered low risk and safe for children of all ages because it does not use x-rays or radiation to look at the brain. Instead, it uses a very strong magnet (similar to ones you might have at home) to take ‘brain pictures’.


Brain development study

We are conducting a study of brain development in 4- to 6-year-old children. We are interested in understanding brain development in children who often feel sad and/or irritable and those who don’t feel this way. This study involves two appointments: 1) an in-person interview and child assessment, and 2) an MRI scan

The main goal of the study is to help us better understand how the brain works in healthy preschoolers compared to those who are often sad or irritable. In order to do this, we asked children to take part in an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan that created pictures of their brain’s structure and let us see how their brain reacted when they looked at pictures of people expressing feelings, such as sadness, or when they were just quietly resting. MRI is considered low risk and safe for children of all ages because it does not use X-rays or radiation to look at the brain. Instead, it uses a very strong magnet (similar to ones you might have at home) to take ‘brain pictures.’

By comparing children who feel sad or irritable with those who do not, we may be able to learn about differences in how the brain works.


Neurobehavioral correlates of emotion regulation in healthy and depressed children

This study examines both healthy and depressed children and their reactions to emotional situations. Participants were trained to use three different methods of controlling emotions, and then they try to use those methods while in an emotional situation. We are interested in how this affects different brain structures, so this all happens during an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scan. This study was open to some of the children who are already participants in our longitudinal study on children’s moods and emotions.

Children often experience a range of negative emotions on a daily basis. Children who develop effective strategies for controlling their experience of negative emotions and who are able to avoid becoming “too sad” for long periods of time are less likely to become depressed throughout their lifespan. Findings indicate that even when healthy and depressed adults use the same strategies to control their experience of negative emotions during an emotion-inducing fMRI task, depressed adults exhibit atypical brain functioning in several brain regions while healthy adults do not. Thus, scientists now claim that atypical brain activity that occurs while trying to control negative emotions may provide a key “brain marker” of risk for and/or diagnosis of adult depression. To date, few researchers have examined brain activity using fMRI methods with children while they use strategies to control their experience of negative emotions. Furthermore, to our knowledge no studies have examined this topic in a sample of healthy versus depressed children.

In this study, we hope to identify differences in brain activity associated with children’s use of specific strategies for controlling their experience of negative emotions. Test whether these expected differences in brain activity are explained by children’s risk for and/or diagnosis of depression.

Andy Belden, PhD, trained child participants in the use of three specific strategies known to be effective for controlling experiences of negative emotions. During an fMRI scan, child participants were instructed to use these same strategies while completing an emotion-inducing task. Analyses are being conducted to examine whether healthy children versus children at risk for depression exhibit differences in brain activity despite using identical strategies for controlling their experience of negative emotion.

We also asked study participants and their parent(s) to fill out a short questionnaire that helps us assess cognitive, affective and behavioral signs of depression. The amount of time required for participation in the study was approximately two hours.

Early identification of “brain markers” may help to prevent depression as well as lead to better inventions aimed at minimizing the burden of childhood onset depression.


Children’s moods and emotions study — Genetic Component, “NARSAD Genetic Study”

We collected genetic information from children who previously participated in our longitudinal study of children’s moods and emotions. Using saliva from the children, DNA was extracted for specific genetic information of interest. It is our hope that we can identify specific genes that may be associated with risk for emotional disorders in children.


Child brain study

We conducted a study on brain development in 7- to 10-year-old children. We are interested in understanding how kids think and act, how their brains develop, and how these factors compare in children whose mothers do or don’t have a history of depression. This study involved up to four appointments: two in-person parent interviews and child assessments and up to two child MRI scans.

The main goal of the study is to help us better understand how factors, such as mother’s history of depression and child brain development, contribute to resilience and risk for depression. As a part of the study parents and their children each had an assessment with a trained clinician and children were asked questions about how they think and feel. They also played different games where they won toys and candy. Finally, children took part in an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan that created pictures of their brain’s structure and let us see how their brain reacted when they looked at pictures, played games, or were just quietly resting.

By comparing children of mothers with and without a history of depression, we may be able to learn about psychological and brain development and hopefully help benefit children with mental health issues one day.