Exploring emotional awareness using real-time fMRI

Depression is a devastating disorder affecting approximately 1.4 million Canadians and 121 million people worldwide. While there have been many advances in depression treatment, a high rate of depression relapse remains. Numerous studies have shown that depression is associated with rumination, the tendency to dwell on thoughts and emotions. Since the majority of these thoughts and emotions are negative, rumination leads to a lower mood state. Rumination involves the difficulty of regulating emotional awareness as individuals become excessively aware of their negative emotions. A better understanding of the process of regulating emotional awareness in healthy individuals is therefore needed to address this problem in individuals suffering from depression. Rachelle Smith is exploring the regulation of emotional awareness in healthy individuals by making use of real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This novel method, which has been successfully used in research on regulation of pain and sadness, enables participants to receive immediate feedback regarding the level of activation in a selected brain region as they engage in emotional awareness and perceptual awareness. Smith hopes her research will not only lead to an increased understanding of the regulation of emotional awareness in healthy individuals, but more importantly, provide a necessary framework for future studies in individuals suffering from depression. Ultimately, it could lead to new treatments for depression that allow individuals to gain increased control of their emotional awareness.