Brain Activity In Prefrontal Cortex Protects Against Future Anxiety, Says Study
Using brain imaging, investigators discovered that persons who were at risk for anxiety were less likely to experience the disorder when they had more activity in a brain region responsible for complex thought.
Past findings from this group of researchers, led by Ahmad Hariri, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, revealed that people whose brains display a high response to threat and a low response to reward, over time, are at a higher risk of incurring depression and anxiety.
For the current research, Hariri and his team aimed to discover if more brain activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) could help prevent individuals who are at risk for anxiety from future symptoms.
The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is the brain’s executive control center and helps with attention and planning complex actions. Also, it helps to regulate emotions. Of note, psychotherapies, such cognitive-behavior therapy, engage this area of the brain by giving patients strategies to re-evaluate their emotions.
About The Study
For the study, the research team examined data from 120 students, each of which completed a number of health questionnaires, and underwent a brain scan known as functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) while engaging in tasks that activated certain areas of the brain.
The investigators asked each subject to complete memory-based math problems that were meant to stimulate the DLPFC. Also, participants viewed scared or angry faces to stimulate a brain region known as the amygdala and played a reward-based game to activate another region called the ventral striatum.
After comparing subjects’ mental health evaluations at the time of the fMRIs and a follow-up around seven months later, researchers discovered that at-risk individuals were less likely to experience anxiety when they had heightened activity in the DLPFC.
The researchers noted that individuals at-risk for anxiety might be more likely to benefit from approaches that increase activity in the DLPFC, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, working memory training and transcranial magnetic stimulation:
“Our findings…highlight a unique combination of neural biomarkers that may identify at-risk individuals for whom the adoption of strategies to improve executive control of negative emotions may prove particularly beneficial.”
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology