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Brain Activity Reflects Variation in Types of Anxiety

A recent research by UI psychology professors Gregory A. Miller and Wendy Heller has found that brain activity reflects differences in types of anxiety.

Researchers, whose work will be published this month online in Psychophysiology, have found the most convincing confirmation yet of contrary patterns of brain activity connected with each of two types of anxiety: anxious apprehension (verbal rumination, worry) and anxious arousal (intense fear, panic, or both).

This study looks at two facets of anxiety that often are not distinguished. We had reason to think there were different brain mechanisms, different parts of the brain active at different times, depending on what type of anxiety one is facing, said U. of I. psychology professor Gregory A. Miller.

According to a recent national survey, anxiety disorders are the most regularly reported psychiatric disorders in the U.S. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies almost a dozen different anxiety disorders, from severe stress disorder to obsessive-compulsive disorder to panic attack and PTSD.

But those who study and treat patients with anxiety disorders do not always distinguish the patients who worry, are hassled and ruminate from those who experience the panic, rapid heartbeat or bouts of sweating that describe anxious arousal. These two kinds of anxiety may occur alone or in combination, with potentially significant implications for treatment.

To test whether neural activation patterns supported the hypothesis that these two categories of anxiety are different, the researchers chose 42 subjects from a group of 1,099 undergraduate college students, using psychological tests to classify them as high anxious apprehension, high anxious arousal, or neither.

Other psychological assessments standardized the group of participants by eliminating those with mood disorders or other complicating factors.


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