Magazine article Science News

Antidepressants May Alter Personality

Magazine article Science News

Antidepressants May Alter Personality

Article excerpt

A new generation of antidepressant drugs, led by Prozac (fluoxetine), has gained renown as a builder of better personalities through chemistry. In his 1993 book Listening to Prozac (Viking, New York), psychiatrist Peter D. Kramer of Brown University in Providence, R.I., argues that the drug enhances feelings of social ease and flexibility in people who constantly fear rejection by others but do not suffer from full-blown depression.

Kramer's claims have sparked a vigorous debate among psychiatrists, much of which springs from clinical observations rather than scientific assessments. A new study, described at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in Philadelphia last week, suggests that Prozac and many other antidepressants may indeed alter one enduring aspect of personality as they diminish depression.

"Emotional and personality factors are intertwined in depression, so it's really not surprising that some type of personality change would accompany improvement in this condition," asserts study director Ron G. Goldman of Columbia University.

Goldman's group employed a 100-item questionnaire, developed by psychiatrist C. Robert Cloninger of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, that measures three broad personality dimensions (SN: 3/5/94, p.152). These consist of novelty-seeking behavior, harm avoidance, and dependence on rewards.

The researchers gave this personality test to 59 moderately or severely depressed individuals before and after random assignment to 6 weeks of treatment with a standard antidepressant, imipramine, or a placebo pill. Another 87 severely depressed persons treated with Prozac took the test before and after 10 to 12 weeks of treatment.

About two-thirds of those treated with imipramine or Prozac displayed a substantial dampening of their depression, compared with one-fifth of the placebo group. …

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