Link Between Brain Structure And Anxiety Found In Healthy Adults

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Having a smaller inferior frontal cortex has been linked, in young adults, to an increased likelihood of suffering from anxiety, and giving a negative slant to neutral or positive events.

The inferior frontal cortex (IFC) is a region of the brain located behind the temples. It helps people regulate their thoughts and emotions.

Using neuroimaging brains scans, and standard questionnaires to asses for anxiety and negative bias, researchers collected data from 62 healthy college students. An analysis revealed the relationship between a student’s IFC size and their negative bias correlated to their anxiety level.

Earlier studies found a similar link between negative bias and IFC size in people diagnosed with anxiety. This study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, was the first to determine the same association in healthy adults.

“People who have smaller [IFC] volumes have higher levels of anxiety; people who have larger IFCs tend to have lower levels of anxiety,” said University of Illinois psychology researcher Sanda Dolcos. “And higher anxiety is associated with more negative bias. How we see this is that the higher volume of the IFC confers resilience.”

Because there is a high level of student anxiety on college campuses, the researchers’ goal is to help prevent worried students from developing symptoms of clinical anxiety. By understanding the connection between brain structure, personality traits, and bias scientists can work on effective anxiety-preventive interventions.

Anxiety can interfere with many aspects of student life, including the ability to concentrate in class, exercise creativity, and participate socially. The American College Health Association reports almost 60 percent of students have at least one difficult episode of anxiety each year.

“We hope to be able to train the brain to function better,” said grad student and researcher Yifan Hu. “That way, we might prevent these at-risk people from moving on to more severe anxiety.”

Source: Illinois News Bureau
Photo credit: CollegeDegress360

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