Principal components of electrocortical activity during self-evaluation indicate depressive symptom severity

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Negative self-evaluation is an important psychological characteristic of depression. In order to study the underlying neural mechanisms, we examined event-related potentials (ERPs) during a self-evaluation task in a community sample (N =150) of adults reporting a range of depressive symptoms. Principal components analysis (PCA) was used to separate processes that overlap in the average ERP, and neural source analysis was applied to localize the ERP components, with a particular focus on the frontal networks that are thought to be critical to affective self-regulation in depression. Consistent with previous research, individuals reporting greater depression showed enhanced negativity over medial frontal regions as well as attenuation of the late positive potential over parietal regions. Examining loadings of frontal sources on the ERP components showed that activity in the right inferior frontal region may be particularly important for depressed individuals: activity in this region declined as symptoms became more severe. Characterizing brain mechanisms of self-evaluation on the timescale of cognitive events may provide insight into the neural mechanisms of self-regulation that are important in cognitive therapy, and that could be made more amenable to change through increasing neuroplasticity with targeted non-invasive neuromodulation.

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