An Overview of Psychological and Neurobiological Mechanisms by which Early Negative Experiences Increase Risk of Mood Disorders.
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OBJECTIVE: Early life experiences are associated with severe and long-lasting effects on behavioural and emotional functioning, which in turn are thought to increase the risk for unipolar depression and other disorders of affect regulation. The neurobiological and psychological mechanisms through which adverse early life experiences confer risk are poorly understood. METHOD: Alterations in brain structure and function in limbic and prefrontal cortical regions have been linked to early negative experiences and to mood disorders. RESULTS: There are a number of psychological domains that may be dysfunctional in people with mood disorders, and which, if the dysfunction occurs prior to onset of mood symptoms, may signify a risk factor for depression. Cognitive dysfunction has been examined in patients with mood disorders, with some suggestion that changes in cognitive function may antedate the onset of mood symptoms, and may be exacerbated in those who experienced early negative trauma. Social cognition, including emotion comprehension, theory of mind and empathy, represent under-studied domains of psychological function that may be negatively influenced by early adverse experience. Temperament and personality factors may also leave people vulnerable to mood instability. CONCLUSION: This review summarizes the evidence for dysfunction in each of these domains for people with mood disorders.