Heightened depression and stress symptoms might be associated with altered prefrontal brain activity in young adults during a working memory task, according to new research published in Psychophysiology.
“I am interesting in understand the interaction between emotion and cognition by studying the prefrontal cortex activation,” said study author Agnes S. Chan, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and director of the Research Center for Neuropsychological Well-Being.
“The prefrontal cortex mediates emotion and cognition, and studies have shown that individuals who suffer various psychological problems such as depression and anxiety have abnormal structure and activity in the prefrontal cortex.”
In the study, 40 right-handed college students completed neurocognitive tests as the researchers used functional near-infrared spectroscopy to detect changes in prefrontal brain tissue oxygenation. The participants then completed a measure of their depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms in the preceding week.
“We found an association between greater self-reported negative mood symptoms and poorer frontal lobe functioning during the performance of the cognitive task,” Chan told PsyPost. In particular, the researchers found that increased levels of depression and stress symptoms were associated with reduced lateral prefrontal cortex activation during a working memory task.
“It should be emphasized, however, that our findings do not speak to any causal effect. That is, while it is plausible that decreased lateral prefrontal cortex functioning leads to an increased level of negative emotionality, increased negative affect may also lead to decreased lateral prefrontal cortex functioning because of reduced effort devoted to the working memory task,” the researchers said.
Surprisingly, the levels of recent negative mood and prefrontal cortex activation were unrelated to performance on the working memory task.
The findings shed light on some of the neurocognitive changes associated with negative emotionality. But future research is needed with older populations. “Our study focused on young adults, and our findings might not be generalizable to other age groups,” Chan said.
“Healthy lifestyle habits, such as getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, and having a peaceful mind, have been shown to have mood-enhancing effects. All of us can optimize productivity, maintain brain health, and live a happy life by adopting a healthy lifestyle,” Chan added.
“I have developed a lifestyle medicine program based upon traditional health concepts, namely Chanwuyi Lifestyle Medicine Program. Empirical studies have shown that this program is effective in improving psychological and physical health. For further information please visit: https://www.chanwuyilifestyle.psy.cuhk.edu.hk/”
The study, “Negative mood is associated with decreased prefrontal cortex functioning during working memory in young adults“, was authored by Michael K. Yeung, Tsz L. Lee, and Agnes S. Chan.