The new study shows that people diagnosed with anxiety are less able to distinguish between a neutral, “safe” stimulus (in this case, the sound of a tone) and one that was earlier associated with the threat of money loss or gain.
Investigators explain that when anxious people are confronted with emotional experiences, they show a behavioral phenomenon known as over-generalization.
These findings are discussed in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.
“We show that in patients with anxiety, emotional experience induces plasticity in brain circuits that lasts after the experience is over,” says Rony Paz of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.
“Such plastic changes occur in primary circuits that later mediate the response to new stimuli, resulting in an inability to discriminate between the originally experienced stimulus and a new similar stimulus.
Therefore, anxiety patients respond emotionally to such new stimuli as well, resulting in anxiety even in apparently irrelevant new situations.
Importantly, they cannot control this, as it is a perceptual inability to discriminate.”