Basing Everyday Decisions on Risk of Pain or Loss Linked to Increased Anxiety

Posted on May 16, 2018

Our ability to 'generalize' is an important survival technique, but over-generalizing from bad or harmful events that have occurred in one’s life could explain why some people fear and thereafter avoid scenarios that are not actually dangerous. This over-avoidance has been identified as a significant factor in anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, chronic pain and depression.

The study was done by Agnes Norbury, Research Associate at the University of Cambridge, UK. Norbury and her team split participants into two groups, then presented both groups an experiment where they were presented with different flower-like shapes on a screen, some of which were 'safe' and some of which were 'dangerous'. To avoid a dangerous shape, the participants could hit an 'escape' button. If they didn't do this, those in the lab group would receive an electric shock, and those doing the test online would lose some of their online cash stake. However, hitting the escape button also came at a cost of receiving additional shocks at the end, or losing more money.

It was found that people were more likely to generalize from negative events, compared to safe or neutral outcomes. In addition, different parts of the decision-making process were linked to activity in different brain regions, including areas involved in vision, fear response and safety learning. They also found that those people who generalized more from the negative events (pain or loss) reported a greater experience of anxious feelings and intrusive thoughts.

The above findings could possibly allow for a greater understanding of the thought processes that underlie anxiety in some people, and in turn allow for the adaptation of treatments more effectively to people with anxiety in future.


Source material from Science Daily

Mental Health News