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Is Resting Anterior EEG Alpha Asymmetry a Trait Marker for Depression?

Findings for Healthy Adults and Clinically Depressed Patients

Debener S.a · Beauducel A.a · Nessler D.a,b · Brocke B.a · Heilemann H.c · Kayser J.d
aDepartment of Psychology II, Dresden University of Technology, Dresden, bMax Planck Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, Leipzig, cState Mental Hospital Arnsdorf, Germany, and dDepartment of Biopsychology, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, N.Y., USA Neuropsychobiology 2000;41:31–37 (DOI:10.1159/000026630)


Several lines of evidence suggest that asymmetric anterior brain activation is related to affective style, linking left hemisphere activation to positive affect and right hemisphere activation to negative affect. However, previous reports of left frontal hypoactivation in depressed patients were not confirmed in recent studies. This study evaluated additional characteristics of resting EEG alpha (8–13 Hz) asymmetry in 15 clinically depressed patients and 22 healthy adults by recording EEG activity on two separate occasions, 2–4 weeks apart. Across both sessions, group differences in anterior EEG asymmetry were compatible with the original hypothesis. However, groups differed in temporal stability of anterior EEG asymmetry, which was retest reliable in controls but not depressed patients. In contrast, temporal stability of posterior EEG asymmetry was acceptable in both groups. Increased variability of anterior EEG asymmetry may be a characteristic feature for depression, and, if so, this would challenge the notion that anterior EEG alpha asymmetry is a trait marker for depression.

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