Updated: Jan 3, 2022, 16:48 IST
Washington [US]January 3, 2013 (ANI): Researchers used virtual reality to study the effects of anxiety on the brain, and how the brain regions interact to influence behaviour.
The study has been published by the ‘Communications Biology Journal.
“These findings show that anxiety disorders may be more than a lack of awareness of environment or ignorance of safety. Rather, individuals with an anxiety disorder cannot control how they feel and behave even if it were possible,” Benjamin SuarezJimenez, Ph.D. assistant professor at the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience, University of Rochester, and first author of this study.
He said, “The patients with anxiety disorder could rationally state that they are in a safe place. But we found that their brain was acting as if it were not.”
The researchers used fMRI to observe the brain activity of volunteers who had general anxiety and social anxiety while they played a virtual reality game of picking flower. Half of the meadow was filled with flowers without bees and the other half contained bees that would sting them. This was simulated by mild electrical stimulation to one’s hand. Researchers found that all participants in the study could differentiate between safe and unsafe areas. However brain scans revealed that anxiety-afflicted volunteers had an increase in insula and dorsomedial anterior cortex activation. This indicated that their brain was associating safe areas with danger or threat.
“This is the very first time we’ve looked at discrimination-learning in this way. SuarezJimenez stated that while we are familiar with the brain areas to be focused on, this is the first instance of this concert of activity in a complex environment.
“These findings point toward the need to treat patients that focus on helping them take back control over their bodies,” he said.
These patients had only seen brain differences. The only difference in these patients was the absence of clear differences in sweat responses, which is a proxy for anxiety.
Suarez-Jimenez’s research focuses on understanding the neural mechanisms that the brain learns about the environment. This includes how the brain predicts what is dangerous and what is safe. To study neural signatures of anxiety disorders (PTSD) and post-traumatic stress disorder, he used virtual reality environments. His goal was to understand how people construct maps of the brain based on their experience and the role of these maps in psychopathologies related to stress and anxiety.
“We need to determine if the brains of these patients are the same as those with PTSD for the next steps in our recent research.” He said that understanding the similarities and differences between disorders characterized in deficits in behavioral regulation and feelings within safe environments can help us to create better personalized treatment options. (ANI)