Study shows anxiety produces detrimental brain plasticity

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Study shows anxiety produces detrimental brain plasticity
Study shows anxiety produces detrimental brain plasticity

Brain plasticity that leads to the over-generalization of external events has been found to be a common characteristic of anxiety for the first time. Rony Paz of Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel is the first to show that people that experience long-term anxiety perceive the world in a different way than most people.

Anxiety produces a change in brain plasticity that makes the person that experiences anxiety incapable of distinguishing harmless stimuli from the event that originally produced the anxiety. Totally irrelevant stimuli were found to produce a classical anxiety response in people that had clinically diagnosed anxiety. The response was seen in behavior and in functional magnetic resonance images of the brain.

The researchers conditioned two groups of people to respond to a pattern of sounds. One group of participants suffered from anxiety and the other group did not. The sounds indicated a financial loss, a financial gain, or a neutral outcome. The two groups were exposed to a series of sounds that included some of the sounds that were part of the conditioning. People that had anxiety associated irrelevant sounds to a financial loss or a financial gain while people that did not have anxiety did not.

The study is the first to show that anxiety produces a permanent change in brain structure. The study did not exactly identify the locus of the change. The researchers expect to find the brain centers that produce the permanent change in brain plasticity that are associated with anxiety and develop a treatment that reverses the permanent anxiety response.

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