Anxious people have long been classified as "hypersensitive" they're thought to be more fearful and feel threatened more easily than their counterparts. But new research from Tel Aviv University shows that the anxious may not be hypersensitive at all in fact, they may not be sensitive enough.
As part of a study on how the brain processes fear in anxious and non-anxious individuals, Tahl Frenkel, a Ph.D. candidate in TAU's School of Psychological Sciences and the Adler Center for Research in Child Developmental and Psychopathology, working with her supervisor Prof. Yair Bar-Haim, measured brain activity as study participants were shown images designed to induce fear and anxiety. Using an EEG to measure electrical activity caused by the neuronal activity that represents deep processing of these stimuli, the researchers discovered that the anxious group was actually less stimulated by the images than the non-anxious group.
The results of the study were recently published in Biological Psychology.
Measuring fear in the subconscious
Surprisingly, anxious study participants weren't shown to be as physiologically sensitive to subtle changes in their environment as less fearful individuals, Frenkel explains. She theorizes that anxious people could have a deficit in their threat evaluation capabilities necessary for effective decision-making and fear regulation leading to an under-reaction to subtle threatening stimuli. Non-anxious individuals seem to have a subconscious "early warning system," allowing them to prepare for evolving threats. Essentially, anxious people are "surprised" by fearful stimuli that non-anxious individuals have already subconsciously noticed, analyzed, and evaluated.
To get a more accurate picture of both behavioral and neural reactions to fear-inducing stimuli, the researchers drew participants from a group of 240 undergraduate students at the university. Using the Speilberge
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