University of Illinois at Chicago
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Frontal Brain Asymmetry in Depression with Comorbid Anxiety: A Neuropsychological Investigation

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journal contribution
posted on 2013-11-22, 00:00 authored by Brady D. Nelson, Casey Sarapas, E. Jenna Robison-Andrew, Sarah E. Altman, Miranda L. Campbell, Stewart A. Shankman
The approach-withdrawal model posits that depression and anxiety are associated with a relative right asymmetry in frontal brain activity. Most studies have tested this model using measures of cortical brain activity such as electroencephalography. However, neuropsychological tasks that differentially employ left vs. right frontal cortical regions can also be used to test hypotheses from the model. In two independent samples (Study 1 and 2), the present study investigated the performance of currently depressed individuals with or without a comorbid anxiety disorder and healthy controls on neuropsychological tasks tapping primarily left (verbal fluency) or right (design fluency) frontal brain regions. Across both samples, results indicated that comorbid participants performed more poorly than depressed only and control participants on design fluency, while all groups showed equivalent performance on verbal fluency. Moreover, comorbid participants showed “asymmetrical” performance on these two tasks (i.e., poorer design [right frontal] relative to verbal [left frontal] fluency), while depressed only and control participants showed approximately symmetrical profiles of performance. Results from these two samples suggest an abnormal frontal asymmetry in neurocognitive performance driven primarily by right frontal dysfunction among anxious-depressed individuals and highlight the importance of considering comorbid anxiety when examining frontal brain functioning in depression. Keywords: depression, anxiety, asymmetry, fluency, neuropsychology


This study was supported by NIMH Grants F31 MH67309 and R21 MH080689, as well as the American Psychological Foundation/Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology Clarence J. Rosecrans Scholarship awarded to S.A.S.


Publisher Statement

© 2012 American Psychological Association. This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record. The original publication is available at; DOI: 10.1037/a0027587


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