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What Causes Mood Bias in People with Bipolar Disorder?

bipolar disorder

When you're in a good mood, you tend to perceive your experiences as better than they might actually be. Conversely, when you're unhappy, unpleasant events may appear worse than they really are, drawing you deeper into sadness.

For example, you may consider a holiday fantastic when you begin the trip in a vibrant mood. But the same trip may seem a waste of time when you're sulky.

It's more like our perceptions build on the momentum our mood has generated. And this mood biases us towards events.

For people with bipolar disorder, this phenomenon is more intense.

People with bipolar disorder experience dramatic shifts in mood, and these shifts influence how the brain perceives experiences within such periods. As such, a bipolar disorder patient will likely not enjoy something they'd have otherwise enjoyed simply because of a mood swing. Or they may react disproportionately to something they consider offensive.

But what causes this intense mood bias in bipolar disorder patients? And why is it significant?

Researchers have discovered that we all have mood bias because of the heightened neural activity in the anterior insula when we have a series of positive or negative experiences. That is, our mood builds momentum—we grow into a rhythm.

However, the researchers found people with bipolar disorder are more prone to mood bias because there's heightened activation in their striatum, a region of the brain that responds to pleasure.

Unlike other healthy individuals, people with bipolar disorder cannot really separate their moods from their experiences (whether positive or negative). That's because the anterior insula (the part of the brain involved with moods) and the striatum (the part involved with pleasure) have a reduced communication than in healthy individuals.

In healthy individuals, "insula and striatum are both firing up in union, suggesting that participants were able to keep their 'mood in mind' when perceiving rewards in the task," says co-lead author Dr Hestia Moningka.

This is why people with bipolar disorder usually get into a vicious cycle they can't help. The person's mood escalates (either into mania or depression), but they're unable to see that it's their mood causing the heightened excitement rather than the severity of the event. And hence, they may act disproportionately or take risks they wouldn't otherwise have.

How to treat mood bias in bipolar disorder?

Of course, there are drugs to curb this.

However, they usually work by reducing the pleasure that good experiences bring.

Hopefully, these findings will help to develop better treatments targeting the parts of the brain involved with mood bias without reducing the excitement patients derive from pleasurable experiences.

What can you do now?

If everything above sounds like your everyday experience, we can help.

At Hope Mental Health, we provide safe, effective psychiatric care for bipolar disorder in Boise and Meridian, Idaho, SLC, and the Wasatch Front, Utah. We also serve OR, AZ, NV, WA, and FL.

From healthy habits and behavioral counseling to medication and psychotherapy, we’ll tailor a treatment program that works best for you.

Contact us today.


Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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