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December 23, 2011 at 4:47 PMComments: 5 Faves: 0

The Anxious Just Miss Clues

By Erin Froehlich More Blogs by This Author

Welcome back to The Well Mind, the blog bringing you the latest developments in the world of mental health.

This week: while previously anxiety was thought to be a condition of hypersensitivity, research is now suggesting exactly the opposite! How could that be?

Let's get into it!

In a study published this week, researchers from Tel Aviv University brought an interesting and important dimension of anxiety to light.

They brought together a group of 240 undergraduate students and using Speilberger's State-Trait Anxiety Inventory trait scale, identified the top and bottom 10% - the most and the least anxious among them.

These students were selected to participate in a study gauging both behavioral response and brain activity and were wired for an EEG. Then they were asked to watch a picture slide show. A set of 100 pictures portraying a person's face began in a calm, neutral position and gradually became more fearful as slides progressed.

In this part of the test, anxious people reacted as you might expect - they were a little quicker to say the face looked "fearful", judging it as such by slide 32, rather than by slide 39 as non-anxious participants did.

The EEG results is where things got funny.

Though anxious participants seemingly had a stronger reaction to fear-inducing stimuli, brain activity revealed that the NON-anxious actually processed fearful stimuli sooner and did so much more thoroughly than the anxious participants did!

So... what happened? Why the discrepancy?

Lead researcher, Tahl Frenkel poses this theory: that anxious individuals are more anxious because they aren't as adept at noticing the subtle changes in their environment less anxious individuals more readily pick up on. Thus, they're taken by surprise.

Frenkle suggests that the "early warning system" which allows non anxious people to subconsciously notice, analyze and evaluate stimuli, is under-operating in cases of anxiety.

Said Frenkle, "The EEG results tell us that what looks like hypersensitivity on a behavioral level is in fact the anxious person's attempt to compensate for a deficit in the sensitivity of their perception,"

Obviously, this finding has important implications for both doctors and the millions of anxiety disordered patients that see them!

Sources: ScienceDaily- Are The Anxious Oblivious

Photo Credit: deadeyebart aka Brett

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  • very interesting! great food for thought!

  • Thanks, Dr. VanWingen! :)

  • Wow...that's fascinating! I never would have thought of it that way, but the idea that it catches them by surprise definitely does make sense. I wonder what kind of implications this could have for treatment?

  • This is great, Erin!

  • Thanks, Laura! Thanks, Lesley!

    As for treatment implications, my first thought was biofeedback. It's already being used in the area, but with this new understanding, I wonder if it might be used to hone the observational skills of anxious people - to train their brains to recognize and analyze more quickly.

    Then of course, there may be changes in the pharmaceutical field as well, but based on what I've seen of anxiety meds, I'd always advise against going that route if you possibly can.

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