Even the brains of people with anxiety states can get used to fear

January 29, 2013, Medical University of Vienna
Even the brains of people with anxiety states can get used to fear

Fear is a protective function against possible dangers that is designed to save our lives. Where there are problems with this fear mechanism, its positive effects are cancelled out: patients who have a social phobia become afraid of perfectly normal, everyday social situations because they are worried about behaving inappropriately or being thought of as stupid by other people. Scientists from the Centre for Medical Physics and Biomedical Technology and the University Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the MedUni Vienna have now discovered that this fear circuit can be deactivated, at least in part.

In a study by Ronald Sladky, led by Christian Windischberger (Centre for Medical Physics and Biomedical Technology), which has recently been published in the magazine PLOS One, functional magnetic resonance tomography was used to measure the changes in the of socially phobic patients and healthy test subjects while they were looking at faces. This experiment simulates social with other people without actually placing the individual in an intolerable situation of anxiety.

Permanent confrontation has a diminishing effect on anxiety

"The study demonstrated that people with social phobia initially exhibit greater activity in the and in the medial, prefrontal cortex of the brain, however after a few faces this activity recedes," says Sladky. This contradicts the assumption made thus far that the emotional circuit of socially phobic individuals is unable to adapt adequately to this stress-inducing situation.

Permanent confrontation with the test task not only led to a solution to the "problem" being found more quickly among the patients with anxiety, but also to some areas of the brain being bypassed which otherwise were over-stimulated, a characteristic typical of anxiety. Says Sladky: "We therefore concluded that there are functional control strategies even in the emotional circuits of people with social phobia, although the mechanisms take longer to take effect in these individuals. The misregulation of these parts of the brain can therefore be compensated to a degree."

These findings could, according to Sladky, provide a starting point for the development of personalised training programmes that will help affected individuals to conquer unpleasant situations in their everyday lives more effectively. In Austria, around 200,000 people a year are affected by some form of . The number of people who suffer this condition without seeking help for it is likely to be very high, since many affected individuals fail to seek assistance or do so only too late as a result of their anxiety.

Explore further: Research finds children with social phobia are judged less attractive

More information: Sladky, R. et al. Increased Neural Habituation in the Amygdala and Orbitofrontal Cortex in Social Anxiety Disorder Revealed by fMRI. PLoS ONE 7(11): e50050. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050050

Related Stories

Research finds children with social phobia are judged less attractive

February 7, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- A recent study from the Centre for Emotional Health, Macquarie University, has found children with social phobia are judged as less attractive and are less liked by their peers, than children without anxiety ...

Recommended for you

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

mahesh_jain_921230
not rated yet Jan 29, 2013
In general it can be said that all emotions are protective reflexes and all emotional responses can be modified through appropriate mental training. Material manifestations of the entire phenomenon are likely to be observable through functional MRI and other brain function mapping techniques. This shows that brain circuitry has a dynamic structure which can profoundly vary among individuals.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.