Not long ago, scientists predicted that these images, produced by sophisticated brain-scanning techniques, would help cut through the mystery of mental illness, revealing clear brain abnormalities and allowing doctors to better diagnose and treat a wide variety of disorders. And nearly every week, it seems, imaging researchers announce another finding, a potential key to understanding depression, attention deficit disorder, anxiety.
Yet for a variety of reasons, the hopes and claims for brain imaging in psychiatry have far outpaced the science, experts say.
After almost 30 years, researchers have not developed any standardized tool for diagnosing or treating psychiatric disorders based on imaging studies.
Several promising lines of research are under way. But imaging technology has not lived up to the hopes invested in it in the 1990's - labeled the "Decade of the Brain" by the American Psychiatric Association - when many scientists believed that brain scans would turn on the lights in what had been a locked black box.
Now, with imaging studies being published at a rate of more than 500 a year, and commercial imaging clinics opening in some parts of the country, some experts say that the technology has been oversold as a psychiatric tool. Other researchers remain optimistic, but they wonder what the data add up to, and whether it is time for the field to rethink its approach and its expectations.
Tags: brain scans
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