Aa
A
A
A
Close
Anxiety Community
23k Members
1042487 tn?1275283499

How Our Brains Get Tripped Up When We're Anxious

How Our Brains Get Tripped Up When We're Anxious

''ScienceDaily (Sep. 14, 2010) — A new University of Colorado at Boulder study sheds light on the brain mechanisms that allow us to make choices and ultimately could be helpful in improving treatments for the millions of people who suffer from the effects of anxiety disorders.

In the study, CU-Boulder psychology Professor Yuko Munakata and her research colleagues found that "neural inhibition," a process that occurs when one nerve cell suppresses activity in another, is a critical aspect in our ability to make choices.

"The breakthrough here is that this helps us clarify the question of what is happening in the brain when we make choices, like when we choose our words," Munakata said. "Understanding more about how we make choices, how the brain is doing this and what the mechanisms are, could allow scientists to develop new treatments for things such as anxiety disorders."

Researchers have long struggled to determine why people with anxiety can be paralyzed when it comes to decision-making involving many potential options. Munakata believes the reason is that people with anxiety have decreased neural inhibition in their brain, which leads to difficulty making choices.

"A lot of the pieces have been there," she said. "What's new in this work is bringing all of this together to say here's how we can fit all of these pieces of information together in a coherent framework explaining why it's especially hard for people with anxiety to make decisions and why it links to neural inhibitors."

A paper on the findings appeared in the Aug. 30 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. CU-Boulder professors Tim Curran, Marie Banich and Randall O'Reilly, graduate students Hannah Snyder and Erika Nyhus and undergraduate honors thesis student Natalie Hutchison co-authored the paper.

In the study, they tested the idea that neural inhibition in the brain plays a big role in decision-making by creating a computer model of the brain called a neural network simulation.

"We found that if we increased the amount of inhibition in this simulated brain then our system got much better at making hard choices," said Hannah Snyder, a psychology graduate student who worked with Munakata on the study. "If we decreased inhibition in the brain, then the simulation had much more trouble making choices."

Through their model they looked at the brain mechanisms involved when we choose words. They then tested the model's predictions on people by asking them to think of the first verb that comes to mind when they are presented with a noun.

"We know that making decisions, in this case choosing our words, taps into this left-front region of the brain, called the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex," Munakata said. "We wanted to figure out what is happening in that part of the brain that lets us make these choices. Our idea here, which we have shown through the word-choosing model, is that there's a fight between neurons in this area of the brain that lets us choose our words."

They then tested the model's predictions that more neural inhibition in the brain makes it easier to make choices by examining the effects of increased and decreased inhibition in people's brains. They increased inhibition by using a drug called midazolam and found that people got much better at making hard choices. It didn't affect other aspects of their thinking, but rather only the area of making choices. They investigated the effects of decreased inhibition by looking at people with anxiety.

"We found that the worse their anxiety was, the worse they were at making decisions, and the activity in their left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex was less typical," Munakata said.

There are two ways in which the research could be helpful in improving treatments for anxiety, according to Snyder. While specific medications that increase neural inhibition are currently used to treat the emotional symptoms of anxiety disorders, the findings suggest that they might also be helpful in treating the difficulty those suffering from anxiety have in selecting one option when there are too many choices.

"Secondly, a more precise understanding of what aspects of cognition patients are struggling with could be extremely valuable in designing effective approaches to therapy for each patient," she said. "For example, if someone with an anxiety disorder has difficulty selecting among multiple options, he or she might benefit from learning how to structure their environment to avoid choice overload."

The work was done in CU-Boulder's Center for Determinants of Executive Function and Dysfunction, which brings together researchers from different areas of expertise on campus and beyond including experts on drug studies, neuroimaging and anxiety. The center is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.''

-http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100913162520.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Latest+Science+News%29

M4
2 Responses
Avatar universal
Very interesting....thanks for posting this!
968908 tn?1274874715
I would say the reason why the worse the anxiety is the worse the decision making, is simply because of the related fear.  ie, if your afraid of going to a big supermarket you become hesitant to go and therefore your decisios are affected.....but is this fear connected to a lack of inhibition of the cells/neurons within the brain??  Interesting though and good to see that science is taking a step forward in trying to work this out and working towards a cure or more effective treatment...... It can't come soon enough!!
Have an Answer?
Top Anxiety Answerers
Avatar universal
Arlington, VA
370181 tn?1428180348
Arlington, WA
Learn About Top Answerers
Didn't find the answer you were looking for?
Ask a question
Popular Resources
Find out what can trigger a panic attack – and what to do if you have one.
A guide to 10 common phobias.
Take control of tension today.
These simple pick-me-ups squash stress.
Don’t let the winter chill send your smile into deep hibernation. Try these 10 mood-boosting tips to get your happy back
Want to wake up rested and refreshed?