fMRI studies of women with postpartum depression/anxiety: Towards a model of feminist science?

Meghan Riley

This presentation starts with the premise that fMRIs of women exhibiting symptoms of postpartum depression might be used to practice feminist science as recommended by feminist philosophers of science such as Grossi, Jordan-Young, Rumiati, and Fine. For instance, since such fMRIs only study the brains of postpartum depressed women, they would not compare the brains of women and men and try to find differences between them. However, because the research begins with the assumption that only women have postpartum depression and that most cases of postpartum depression are caused by hormonal changes during and/or after pregnancy, and because the lack of evidence via fMRI may lead to decreased access to treatment, I argue that future fMRI studies of postpartum depression should include men exhibiting PPD symptoms and should also always be paired with a consideration of social factors and self-assessment.

This argument engages with empathy in that it supports Gillian Einstein’s recommendations that “neuroscience, especially affective neuroscience, really must ask […] the organisms being studied what it is like for them” (157). That is, because sympathy and empathy are distinct, and because it is difficult, if not impossible to truly understand an experience one has not had, the lived experience of women and men exhibiting postpartum depression and/or anxiety symptoms must be taken into account. This argument further engages the importance of examining this topic with a focus on intersectionality, as I document how many of the studies focus on white, middle-class women, and thus further fail to consider the social and socioeconomic class factors that may lead to postpartum depression and anxiety.