Self-compassion and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activity during sad self-face recognition in depressed adolescents

Guanmin Liu, Na Zhang, Jia Yuan Teoh, Christine Egan, Thomas A. Zeffiro, Richard J. Davidson, Karina Quevedo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background Given the prevalence of adolescent depression and the modest effects of current treatments, research ought to inform development of effective intervention strategies. Self-compassion is inversely associated with depression, and self-compassion interventions have demonstrated promising effects on reducing depression. However, little is known about the neural mechanisms underlying that relationship. Maladaptive self-processing is a characteristic of depression that contributes to the onset and chronicity of depression. Because our own face is an automatic and direct cue for self-processing, this study investigated whether self-compassion was associated with neural responses during sad v. neutral self-face recognition and explore their relationship with depression severity in depressed adolescents and healthy controls (HCs). Methods During functional magnetic resonance imaging, 81 depressed youth and 37 HCs were instructed to identify whether morphed self or other faces with sad, happy, or neutral expressions resembled their own. Results Self-compassion correlated negatively with activity during sad v. neutral self-face recognition in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex in the total sample, and in the right posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus in HCs, respectively. In depressed adolescents, higher self-compassion correlated with lower activity during sad v. neutral self-face recognition in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), implying that less cognitive effort might be needed to avoid dwelling on sad self-faces and/or regulate negative affect induced by them. Moreover, higher self-compassion mediated the relationship between lower DLPFC activity and reduced depression severity. Conclusions Our findings imply that DLPFC activity might be a biological marker of a successful self-compassion intervention as potential treatment for adolescent depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)864-873
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological medicine
Issue number5
Early online dateJul 23 2020
StatePublished - Apr 23 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press.


  • Adolescence
  • depression
  • fMRI
  • self-compassion
  • self-processing


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