April 10, 2023

New Research: Understanding the Role the Brain Waves Play in Gaze Processing in Bipolar Disorder

Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program contributed data for this research that examined the difficulties individuals with bipolar disorder may show with eye gaze processing.

Impaired social cognition — a collection of abilities that allow us to process, make sense of, and use information from our social environments — is common in bipolar disorder and

Researcher Carly Lasagna, B.A.

predicts poor functional outcomes. One crucial factor that contributes to social cognition is our ability to make accurate judgements about others’ gaze direction (i.e., Where is another person looking? Are they looking at me or somewhere else?). Individuals with bipolar disorder show difficulties with eye gaze processing, and this may contribute to difficulties with everyday functioning in bipolar disorder. However, the brain processes that underlie gaze processing in bipolar disorder are not well understood. One powerful way of investigating the underlying brain processes is to examine neural oscillations or “brain waves”, which are rhythmic patterns of brain activity that support cognition (i.e., thinking processes). Researchers at the University of Michigan wanted to know to understand the role that neural oscillations (or “brain waves”) play in gaze processing in bipolar disorder.

They recorded brain activity (using electrodes placed on the scalp) while 72 individuals looked at face images and made decisions about whether the people in those images were looking at them. Of those 72 individuals that participated, there were two groups: 38 with bipolar disorder and 34 without bipolar disorder. Then, researchers looked at the strength of different brain waves and how much those brain waves communicated in both groups. The Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program contributed data for this research.

Researchers found that individuals with bipolar disorder had less of a brain wave called “theta” (which is important in helping us control our thoughts and actions, so we can achieve our goals in different situations). They also found less communications between different brain waves in individuals with bipolar disorder. This may have made it harder for them to quickly and accurately judge where another person was looking.

The researchers hope studies of this kind can begin to show us new new ways to help people with bipolar disorder improve their social cognitive skills and functioning in everyday life.

Read the article here