Boosting brain's 'executive center' may prevent anxiety
Tuesday 21/November/2017 - 03:19 PM
New research، published in the journal Cerebral Cortex، finds that improving activity in the brain's "executive control" center may protect against anxiety and depression. Training a certain part of your brain to perform better may protect you against anxiety، especially if you're at risk. This is the main takeaway of a recent study carried out by researchers at Duke University in Durham، NC.
The scientists set out to investigate potential strategies for helping people with anxiety better cope with their symptoms. They were prompted to do so by previous discoveries they had made.
In his previous research، Ahmad Hariri — a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke and a co-lead author on the current study — studied the brains of people at risk of depression and anxiety.
He، along with his colleagues، found that at-risk individuals exhibit an intense brain response to threat and a low one to reward.
So، in the new research، Prof. Hariri، together with Matthew Scult — a psychology and neuroscience graduate student — decided to turn to another brain area: the so-called dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Anadolu Agency said.
The DLPFC is associated with executive brain functions، such as selective attention and working memory. Importantly، the DLPFC also helps us gain cognitive control over our emotions، and consequently، has been involved in a range of psychotherapy practice، such as CBT.
Speaking about the motivation for the present research، Prof. Hariri says، "We wanted to address an area of understanding mental illness that has been neglected، and that is the flip side of risk."
"We are looking for variables that actually confer resiliency and protect individuals from developing problems،" he adds. Anadolu Agency said.
As part of the study، Scult، Prof. Hariri، and colleagues asked 120 students to fill in mental health questionnaires and take part in a range of cognitive tasks.
To engage their DLPFC، participants were asked to solve math problems. To have their amygdala activated — the brain's "fear hub" — they were asked to look at a range of emotive faces.
Finally، the participants played a game that triggered responses in the ventral striatum — a brain area associated with reward responses.