People with anxious dispositions undergo changes in their brains that make it harder for them to distinguish between danger signals and neutral events, according to a study in the March issue of Current Biology.
Anxiety seems to heighten plasticity in brain circuits, and that changeability endures even after an event that makes a person anxious. This lasting plasticity affects primary brain circuits that help determine emotional responses to new events. That makes it harder for a person with generalized anxiety to tell the difference between emotionally neutral events and those that would normally evoke a negative reaction. Because these circuits are in the amygdala, the brain’s most primitive region, the reactions are hard to counteract with rational thoughts.
TRENDPOST: The brain’s adaptability can help people regain physical and mental functions lost in injuries or strokes, but that skill doesn’t discriminate between useful and harmful adaptations. By identifying the mechanisms of plasticity in different instances, researchers can discover ways to mitigate negative changes.