Overgeneralised self-blame and worthlessness are key symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD) and have previously been associated with self-blame-selective changes in connectivity between right superior anterior temporal lobe (rSATL) and subgenual frontal cortices. Another study showed that remitted MDD patients were able to modulate this neural signature using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) neurofeedback training, thereby increasing their self-esteem. The feasibility and potential of using this approach in symptomatic MDD were unknown. This single-blind pre-registered randomised controlled pilot trial probed a novel self-guided psychological intervention with and without additional rSATL-posterior subgenual cortex (BA25) fMRI neurofeedback, targeting self-blaming emotions in people with insufficiently recovered MDD and early treatment-resistance (n = 43, n = 35 completers). Participants completed three weekly self-guided sessions to rebalance self-blaming biases. As predicted, neurofeedback led to a training-induced reduction in rSATL-BA25 connectivity for self-blame v. other-blame. Both interventions were safe and resulted in a 46% reduction on the Beck Depression Inventory-II, our primary outcome, with no group differences. Secondary analyses, however, revealed that patients without DSM-5-defined anxious distress showed a superior response to neurofeedback compared with the psychological intervention, and the opposite pattern in anxious MDD. As predicted, symptom remission was associated with increases in self-esteem and this correlated with the frequency with which participants employed the psychological strategies in daily life. These findings suggest that self-blame-rebalance neurofeedback may be superior over a solely psychological intervention in non-anxious MDD, although further confirmatory studies are needed. Simple self-guided strategies tackling self-blame were beneficial, but need to be compared against treatment-as-usual in further trials. https://doi.org/10.1186/ISRCTN10526888.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological Medicine
Early online date2 Dec 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Dec 2021


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