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Description: Feeling like your thinking is less sharp or even describable as “fuzzy’ is a fairly common subjective report offered by people struggling with depression or bipolar disorder. However, there has been debate as to whether such feeling are reflections of actual changes in brain function or related, instead to changes in mood or motivation often associated with these disorders. This article reports on a large study that suggests the “fuzziness” may be due to changes in brain function associated with depression and bipolar disorder.

Source: Science Daily: “Fuzzy thinking” in depression, bipolar disorder: New research finds effect is real

Date: May 4, 2015

Depressions and fuzzy thinking

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Physical and cognitive “slowing” are often noted as associated with depression and the depressive parts of bipolar disorder. What is not clear is whether those observations reflect changes in concentration or mental focus or whether they are simply correlates of the general depression of mood and motivation often associated with these disorders. The study described in this article used a sustained concentration task (watching for particular target letters in a visual stream of other letters). The researchers found that while there were some women with depression or bipolar disorder who did as well and non-disordered women on the task nearly all of the women scoring in the bottom 5% of the sample had one or the other of these two disorders. Beyond this the authors of the study suggest that the gradations in functioning they observed supports the recently suggested possibility that “mood disorders [could be viewed] dimensionally, as a continuum of function to dysfunction across illnesses that are more alike than distinct”. It may make more sense to view the symptom components (and the possible underlying causes) of such disorders as existing along graded continua rather than as categorical groups or domains (as they are typically treated diagnostically).

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are the results of this study suggesting about our view of depression and bipolar disorder?
  2. The researchers reported that they “focused on results from women to take gender differences out of the mix”. What does this sort of investigative or experimental control allow them to say about the generalizability of their results?
  3. How might the diagnosis and perhaps even the treatment of depression, bipolar disorders and other disorders shift if we move towards viewing them as reflecting continua of functioning?

References (Read Further):

  1. A. Ryan, E. L. Dawson, M. T. Kassel, A. L. Weldon, D. F. Marshall, K. K. Meyers, L. B. Gabriel, A. C. Vederman, S. L. Weisenbach, M. G. McInnis, J.-K. Zubieta, S. A. Langenecker. Shared dimensions of performance and activation dysfunction in cognitive control in females with mood disorders. Brain, 2015; 138 (5): 1424 DOI: 10.1093/brain/awv070