Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health
Depression Blurs Memories in Adults to Hinder
Distinguishing Similar Things
With old and new items, depressed participants did
fine; often got it wrong when looking at objects similar to something
they already had
Depression affects the brain's ability to
remember differences between similar experiences, making it harder, for
example, to remember where a car is parked. Courtesy of Brigham Young
Oct. 7, 2013 – Most of those who study depression
have long agreed it can play a role in poor memory. A new Brigham Young
University study concludes that the ability to differentiate things that
are similar fades in adults in proportion to the severity of their
symptoms of depression. The more depressed someone feels, the harder it
is for them to distinguish similar experiences they’ve had.
To pinpoint why depression messes with memory,
researchers took a page from Sesame Street’s book. The show’s popular
game “One of these things is not like the others” helps young viewers
learn to differentiate things that are similar – a process known as
If you’ve ever forgotten where you parked the car,
you know the feeling (though it doesn’t mean you have depression).
“That’s really the novel aspect of this study –
that we are looking at a very specific aspect of memory,” said Brock
Kirwan, a psychology and neuroscience professor at BYU.
To find out why depression hampers this memory,
Kirwan and his former grad student D.J. Shelton put people through a
computer-aided memory test. The participants viewed a series of objects
on the screen. For each one, they responded whether they had seen the
object before on the test (old), seen something like it (similar), or
not seen anything like it (new).
With old and new items, participants with
depression did just fine. They often got it wrong, however, when looking
at objects that were similar to something they had seen previously. The
most common incorrect answer was that they had seen the object before.
“They don’t have amnesia,” Kirwan said. “They are
just missing the details.”
This can be a challenge in a number of everyday
situations, such as trying to remember which friends and family members
you’ve told about something personal – and which ones are still in the
The findings also give an important clue about what
is happening in the brain that might explain this.
“There are two areas in your brain where you grow
new brain cells,” Kirwan said. “One is the hippocampus, which is
involved in memory. It turns out that this growth is decreased in cases
Because of this study, we know a little more about
what these new brain cells are for: helping us see and remember new
experiences. The study appears in the journal
Behavioral Brain Research.
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