Can Pinterest help diagnose and treat depression

Depression can be measured through the eyes

The pupillary reaction can provide information about whether a person is seriously ill with depression or not. This is shown by a study by the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry

It is said that our eyes are the window to the soul. And there is actually a lot of truth in this saying. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry in Munich have found that the severity of depression can be read in a patient's eyes, more precisely in the pupils.

The research team led by project group leader Prof. Dr. Victor Spoormaker in November 2020 in the scientific journal Brain Sciences, an open access journal for neurosciences.

Pupillary reaction provides information about the severity of the depression

For their study, the scientists investigated the question of whether depressed patients value rewards less than non-depressed subjects. To this end, they examined the pupil reactions of the 161 study participants, since it has been proven that the pupils of a person who expects a gain or a loss automatically dilate.

The subjects played a simple game in the magnetic resonance tomograph in which they could win a small amount of money. A clear incentive that leads to the dilatation of the pupils in healthy people. Meanwhile, the researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry carefully observed the pupils of the study participants using extremely fast eye trackers. These took 250 pictures per second - for comparison: humans only blink every four to six seconds.

The result: the pupils of the depressed subjects opened less than those of the healthy study participants. And further: the more severe the symptoms of depression a patient, the less their pupils opened. The prospect of a reward therefore does not lead to the same behavioral activation in severely depressed patients as in healthy people. The nervous system of a person suffering from depression is less able to activate itself when the expectation is positive than that of a healthy person.

In this way, the scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry were able to demonstrate for the first time the connection between a dilation of the pupil as a reaction to an expected reward and the severity of a depression.

The researchers suspect that "there is a physiological system behind this that can partially explain the often reported drive disorder in patients," said study leader Victor Spoormaker in a statement from the institute.

The new research results could help improve the diagnosis and treatment of depression in the future. In the future, both will no longer be based exclusively on the statements of the patient, but can also be justified biologically. In this way, depression could be diagnosed more thoroughly than before, and drug therapy could be adapted more individually.