Future Risk of Depression In Children May Be Predicted By Pupil Dilation

New research indicates the key to identifying children at risk for depression early may lie in their eyes. A recent study from Binghamton University says pupil dilation in the children of depressed mothers when seeing an emotional image may be a strong predictor of the child’s risk for depression over the next two years.

Eye PupilProfessor of psychology at Binghamton University in New York and lead researcher Dr. Brandon Gibb said the findings provide support for the belief physiological reactivity to sad stimuli could be a potentially useful biomarker of depression risk in some children.

The researchers say the simple test could help identify which children of depressed mothers are at the highest risk for also developing depression.

“We think this line of research could eventually lead to universal screenings in pediatricians’ offices to assess future depression risk in kids,” said Gibb.

For the study, Gibb recruited children whose mothers had a history of major depressive disorder and measured the children’s pupil dilation as they were shown angry, happy, and sad faces. Over the next two years, the children underwent follow-up assessments included interviews used to assess the child’s level of depressive symptoms.

According to the findings, the researchers say that a child’s reaction to faces can predict the risk of developing short-term depression. Children who exhibited greater pupil dilation to sad faces also reported higher levels of depressive symptoms during the follow-up period. The also showed a shorter time before the onset of a clinically significant depressive episode.

Notably, the response was found to be strongest when children viewed sad faces while there was little to no reactivity to angry or happy faces.

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