The psychological mechanisms by which antidepressant drugs act to improve mood remain underspecified. In this paper we consider the evidence to suggest that early changes in emotional processing underlie subsequent mood improvement following antidepressant treatment. Negative biases in information processing are consistently found in depression, and we argue that primary mode of action of antidepressant drugs may be to remediate these biases providing a more positive social environment in which the patient can relearn emotional associations fostering later improvement in mood. Evidence from behavioural and functional magnetic resonance imaging studies supports this hypothesis. Experimental medicine models developed under this premise have the potential to screen for new treatments, to predict individual treatment response and to consider the effects of pharmacological vs psychological treatments.
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