A Conversation on Adolescent Depression and the Brain with Neuroscientist Dr. Ciara McCabe

Neuroscientist Dr. Ciara McCabe, Director of the Neuroimaging of Reward Group NRG, Department of Psychology and Clinical Languages Sciences, University of Reading, discusses adolescent depression and the brain for World Mental Health Day.


Depression is now the world’s leading health problem. It is twice as prevalent in young women as men and often starts in adolescence.


Despite the enormous global effort to treat depression, both psychological and pharmacological interventions are not always effective. We think treatments and prevention strategies could be improved if we understood more about how the brain is involved in symptoms of depression.

Our Research

In our lab (NRG) we are interested in understanding more about one of the main symptoms of depression, anhedonia. This is described as impaired interest and pleasure during depression. We, and others, have shown that this symptom is also related to reduced brain activity to reward in adults. We have also focused our attention on reduced responses to reward in the brain of adolescents with anhedonia.

Our Tasks

To activate the brain's response to reward, we use food stimuli, such as pictures or  tastes of chocolate. Using this type of task, we can examine how the anticipation or effort or consummation of reward might be represented in the brain differently, in those with and without symptoms of depression.

Future Directions

We aim to use how the brain responds to reward to develop better treatments targeted specifically at enhancing the reward experience in depression. Furthermore, we want to be able to predict it in adolescents who might be at greatest risk for the onset of future clinical depression, so that specific preventions might be enabled that target reward.