Kids who experience excessive guilt have smaller anterior insula on each side of the brain and a smaller insula in the brain's right hemisphere is linked to recurrent episodes of depression later, the findings showed.

"Arguably, our findings would suggest that guilt early in life predicts insula shrinkage," said first author Andrew Belden from the Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis in US.

"I think the story is beginning to emerge that depression may predict changes in the brain, and these brain changes predict risk for recurrence," Belden added.

There is one insula on each side of the brain, and they are thought to be involved in emotion, perception, self-awareness and cognitive function.

The researchers followed a group of children, who were assessed for depression and guilt each year from ages 3-6.

As part of the study, the investigators also found the same brain structure is smaller in kids diagnosed with pathological guilt during their pre-school years, providing evidence that excessive guilt is not only a symptom of depression but is also related to the size of the insula.

The study appeared in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

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