An anxiety disorder is a serious mental condition and can wreak havoc on the affected person’s life. A chronic anxiety has many ill effects which can render a person incapable of carrying on with normal life. It can alter the brain functionality of a person who is in the grip of prolonged anxiety. According to a recent study, people with anxiety even fail to distinguish between neutral and threatening stimuli.
The study, titled “Behavioral and Neural Mechanisms of Overgeneralization in Anxiety,” says, “Overgeneralization of dangerous stimuli is a possible etiological account for anxiety disorders, yet the underlying behavioral and neural origins remain vague.”
The researchers aimed at studying the plasticity of the brain and its ability to respond to new and sudden changes. The study revealed that people who suffer from anxiety fared poorly than others. The anxious people failed to distinguish between “stimuli that have an emotional content and similar mundane or daily stimuli.”
The study unraveled that people with anxiety respond in ways which suggest that their brains are unable to discriminate and respond even to normal or non-emotional stimuli and act as if it is the anxious stimuli.
“Specifically, it is unclear whether this is a choice behavior in an unsafe environment (“better safe than sorry”) or also a fundamental change in how the stimulus is perceived. We show that anxiety patients have wider generalization for loss-conditioned tone when compared to controls and do so even in a safe context that requires a different behavioral policy,” the study says.
Modus operandi of the study
In the first stage of the study, the researchers trained 28 volunteers with anxiety and asked them to associate three distinct tones with three outcomes – money loss, money gain, or no consequences. In the second part, they played 15 different tones and asked participants to identify whether they had heard the sound during the first part of the experiment.
The purpose was to ascertain whether people could avoid over-generalizing a new tone and mistaking it for a different sound they heard before. People with anxiety were more likely to commit this mistake than their healthy counterparts who partook in a previous experiment.
The researchers also made a comparison of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans between the anxious people and the healthy participants in the previous experiment. It was found that people with anxiety had more activity visible in the amygdala, the region of the brain associated with fear and anxiety. Such activities were also seen in the primary sensory regions of the brain.
“Imaging (MRI) revealed that in anxiety only, activations during conditioning in the DACC and the putamen were correlated with later overgeneralization of loss and gain, respectively, whereas valence distinction in the amygdala and hippocampus during conditioning mediated the difference between loss and gain generalization. During generalization itself, neural discrimination based on multivoxel patterns in auditory cortex and amygdala revealed specific stimulus-related plasticity,” the study reported.
According to the researchers, the results suggest that “overgeneralization in anxiety has perceptual origins and involves affective modulation of stimulus representations in primary cortices and amygdala.”
Hence, anxiety should not be treated lightly, but addressed in earnest. Procrastinating the treatment can do more harm than one could imagine.
If a loved one is suffering from an anxiety disorder, call the Anxiety Treatment Centers of California at our 24/7 helpline number 855-972-9459 for prompt assistance. Our experts can answer your queries related to anxiety and its treatments. With our expert advice, the treatment for anxiety is just a call away.