Anxiety: a habituation thing?

The brains of people with social phobia are slower at getting anxiety than healthy people

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Who suffers from morbid fear of other people, that could be helped - through gradual habituation. Because, as Viennese researchers have now found out, the repeated confrontation with the trigger of anxiety - other people - acts so to speak bluntly on the overreached area in the brain of patients. That such a confrontation therapy also helps with such social phobias refute previous assumptions, the researchers say in the journal "PLOS One".

Fear has a vital function: it protects us from possible dangers. However, this mechanism is misregulated in patients with social phobias. They also frighten themselves in completely "harmless" everyday situations. Normal interactions with other people become torture to them, for example, they fear being inappropriate or being considered stupid. In Germany, about 10 percent of men and 15 percent of women suffer from an anxiety disorder at least once in their lives.

In order to investigate the mechanisms behind the disease more precisely, the scientists from the Center for Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering of MedUni Vienna sent healthy and anxiety-afflicted patients to the MRI tube. By looking at human faces, the social confrontation with other people should be simulated - without that the patients were exposed to an unbearable anxiety situation. At the same time, the researchers measured their brain activity.

Permanent confrontation reduces anxiety

"It turned out that people with social phobia initially have stronger activation in the amygdala and in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, but after a few rounds this activity is reduced, " said Ronald Sladky of the University of Vienna. The results contradict previous assumptions. Because so far one had assumed that

People with such an anxiety disorder do not get used to it and therefore do not gradually lose their fear. display

However, the investigations showed that repeated attacks on the attack even completely bypassed certain brain regions that were otherwise overactive in these patients. "Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that there are functioning regulatory strategies in the social network of social phobics, although it takes a little longer for these people to reach these mechanisms." Sladky is convinced that the dysregulation of these parts of the brain can be partially compensated.

The new findings could be the catalyst for the development of personalized training programs that help those affected in everyday life to better cope with unpleasant situations, the researchers hope. (PLoS ONE, 2013; doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0050050.)

(Medical University of Vienna, 30.01.2013 - KBE)