How Depression Affects Memory
October 3, 2013

Sesame Street Game Reveals Link Between Depression And Memory Loss

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Brigham Young University researchers found that Sesame Street's game "One of these things is not like the others" could be used to help determine why depression affects an individual's memory.

The researchers reported in the journal Behavioral Brain Research that the skill used in the Sesame Street game fades in adults in proportion to the severity of their symptoms of depression. In the Sesame Street game, young viewers learn to differentiate things that are similar, a process known as "pattern separation." It has previously been shown that people suffering from depression find it harder to distinguish between similar experiences that they have had in the past.

“That’s really the novel aspect of this study – that we are looking at a very specific aspect of memory,” Brock Kirwan, a psychology and neuroscience professor at BYU, said in a statement.

The team designed a study to investigate the relationship between pattern separation performance and the severity of depression symptoms in an otherwise healthy population. Participants were asked to complete a set of questionnaires to gauge their level of depression. Researcher then asked the volunteer to participate in a computer-aided memory test in which they viewed a series of objects on the screen. For each object, the volunteer responded whether they had seen the object before on the test, seen something like it, or not seen anything like it.

People with depression did fine with both old and new items, but they often got it wrong when looking at objects that were similar to something they had seen previously. The most common incorrect answer the team witnessed was that they had seen the object before.

"We found a significant negative relationship between depression symptoms and pattern separation performance," the authors wrote in the journal. "These results provide support for the idea that depression is negatively related to pattern separation performance."

“They don’t have amnesia. They are just missing the details,” said Kirwan. “There are two areas in your brain where you grow new brain cells. One is the hippocampus, which is involved in memory. It turns out that this growth is decreased in cases of depression.”

The team also said that one of the challenges people suffering from depression may face with memory is trying to remember which friends and family members they told about something personal.

The findings give an important clue about what is happening inside the brain that could help explain this particular type of memory loss.