Anxiety and Negativity Bias Linked to Certain Brain Structure

By Amy Taylor on April 20, 2017

A new study published in the journal Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience has found a link between anxiety and negativity bias and the structure in the brain just behind the temples that helps regulate thoughts and emotions. The research suggests that the smaller this structure is, the more likely a person is to suffer from anxiety and negativity bias.

For the study, researchers looked at the brains of healthy college students who have a relatively small inferior frontal cortex. "You would expect these brain changes more in clinical populations where anxiety is very serious, but we are seeing differences even in the brains of healthy young adults," says Sanda Dolcos, a psychology postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois who led the research.

The study also found that the relationship between the size of the IFC and a student’s negative bias was mediated by their level of anxiety.

"People who have smaller volumes have higher levels of anxiety; people who have larger IFCs tend to have lower levels of anxiety," Dolcos said. And higher anxiety is associated with more negative bias, she said. "How we see this is that the higher volume of the IFC confers resilience." said co-author Yifan Hu, a graduate student at UI.

Dolcos stressed that there is a high level of anxiety among the student population, and that it is affecting their life, academic performance and everything else. "We are interested in identifying what is going on and preventing them from moving to the next level and developing clinical anxiety."

According to Hu, understanding the interrelatedness of brain structure, function and personality traits such as anxiety and their behavioural effects such as negative bias will help scientists develop interventions to target specific brain regions in healthy populations.  

"We hope to be able to train the brain to function better," she said. "That way, we might prevent these at-risk people from moving on to more severe anxiety."

Source of this article:

Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience

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