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Neural Networks, Depression, and Self Esteem


The article “Neurofeedback Therapy for Depression Boosts Self-esteem and Brain Connectivity” reports on the structure and function of the brain and its connections, specifically in individuals with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). By conducting an experimental study on 28 individuals who have MDD, and exposing them to a visual neurofeedback exercise, researchers discovered how to strengthen the typically scarce connections between particular regions of the brain, and, as a result, increase those individuals’ self esteem.


Just as the structure of the Web can be modelled as a graph consisting of a number of nodes that are connected via directed edges, so too can the human brain. The field of neuroscience describes the structure of the human brain as a neural network that propagates information in the form of electrochemical signals between neurons that act as nodes in specific areas. These signals are exchanged between neurons across synaptic gaps, which essentially function as directed edges would in a graph. Researchers in the article rely heavily upon this model of the structure of the brain’s information network, particularly in their experimental methodology. By using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers analyzed the structure and associated function of the brains of subjects as each patient evoked guilt-related memories and consciously tried to change the way that those memories made them feel about themselves, all while receiving live visual feedback on their performance on the task. Strikingly, this method showed that a single neurofeedback session was sufficient to significantly increase the exchange of information between the right anterior superior temporal lobe and the subgenual cortex, areas that tend to be weakly connected in people suffering from MDD. This suggests that the neurofeedback activated more synapses between neurons in the aforementioned brain regions, and essentially created a greater number of strong directed connections. While those areas might have each consisted of a distinct strongly connected component of the brain prior to the experiment, analysis of the study’s findings implies that neurofeedback increases the number of edges between the areas to an extent that is sufficient to create a combined, strongly connected component out of the two. This in turn has the effect of improving cohesion between two areas of the brain that are necessary for engaging in and interpreting social interaction, which leads to an increase in individuals’ self esteem.


Based on the results of the study, it seems that the structure of the human brain is the primary determinant of the way in which information is propagated and exchanged within individuals, which has significant impact on mental and emotional well being. In addition to this, such a structure is also highly reminiscent of that of other information networks, including the Web. Perhaps the combination of insight into these networks and the similarities between them could be applied in future research toward not only more deeply understanding the brain and the Web, but also improving neuroscience, the Web, and other information networks.


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October 2019