The emotional eye exam

New research finds that pupil dilation could hold the key to predicting depression relapse

07 Nov 2016 by Olivia Wannan

The ‘windows to the soul’ may soon be used to predict a person’s risk of depression, according to a new study.

Researchers at New York state’s Binghamton University analysed the pupil dilation of 57 women with a history of a major depressive disorder.

Each was shown faces that were angry, happy, sad or neutral, and the dilation of their pupils was measured. The women were then monitored for two years for depressive relapses, Binghamton University psychology researcher, Professor Brandon Gibb explained.

A person’s pupillary response to an angry face was closely linked to their risk of developing depression again – both the people who had high dilation and those who had low dilation were significantly more likely to have an episode in the 24 months following, according to the paper published in the journal Psychophysiology.

The participants who were recorded with low dilation in response to a sad face were also at risk, whereas a high pupillary reaction to these images was “protective,” Professor Gibb highlighted.

He told OT that his research group hoped to test the theory in a larger study, looking at both men and women.

“We would also love to see if pupil dilation is able to predict risk for first onset of depression in addition to risk for relapse,” Professor Gibb emphasised.

“Ultimately, we’d love to be able to standardise the assessment enough that it could be used as part of regular check-ups to monitor risk, much like you get your cholesterol checked to monitor risk for heart disease,” he concluded.

Image credit: Jonathan King/Binghamton University


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