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 are 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 is 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, will train 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 will be instructed to use these same strategies while completing an emotion-inducing task. Analyses will then be 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 ask 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 is 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.


We are not currently enrolling for the Neurobehavioral Study.