Credits: PBS

Study Explains How Stress Affects Emotions in Children

New research from the Stanford University School of Medicine finds that it is harder for the chronically anxious or stressed children to control negative feelings when the decision making part of the brain receives signals from the fear center of the brain. 

This study is published in the journal biological psychiatry. Click here to read the complete study findings.

This is the first study in which brain scans are used to examine how anxiety and chronic stress take part in changing emotion-regulation circuits. Functional magnetic resonance imaging is used to analyze the nature of the signals between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the amygdalae. Both these are the parts of the brain. The amygdalae is an almond-shaped nerve cluster on both the left and right sides of the brain that works as its fear centers and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is involved in emotion regulation and decision making.

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A co-author of the study and professor of child and adolescent psychiatry, Victor Carrion tells that this investigation shows the correspondence between the thinking centers and emotional centers of a person that becomes less fluid when there is noteworthy pressure. A person needs that association signaling back strongly back and forth. However, anxiety and stress of a specific level appear to interfere with that procedure.

In this study, more than 40 students are included who belong to poor families and regularly face several problems that are enough to increase their stress levels and anxiety levels. Their stress level is estimated by using standard social surveys. All of them had a high-stress level and none of them was diagnosed with mood disorders.

To test how the kids’ minds reacted as they were attempting to manage negative feelings, the researchers led functional MRI scans while the study members saw two kinds of images, neutral and aversive. Neutral images demonstrated lovely scenes like somebody going for a walk, while aversive images indicated conceivably upsetting scenes like a car crash.

 With the help of brain scan data, the scientists tested the strength and course of associations between the reasoning center that is the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and fear center that is the amygdala. Even though the children with various degrees of anxiety and stress reactivity reported comparative decreases in their negative feelings when requested to reappraise the aversive images, their brains were doing various things.

The directional signals from the right amygdala to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex are stronger when a child is anxious or overstressed. While in the reverse direction the signaling was not increased from the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to the amygdala.

More elevated levels of anxiety are related to more negative introductory responses to aversive images, less capacity to direct emotional response in light of aversive images, and progressively impulsive responses during reappraisal of aversive images. Higher stress reactivity was connected with less controlled, progressively impulsive responses while reappraising aversive images, proposing that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is less ready to do its activity.

 The researchers tell that the study’s findings reveal how the mind can be changed by anxiety. Also, go about as a baseline for future examinations to test mediations that may assist children in dealing with their anxiety and stress responses.

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Menon tells that the researchers should be very careful about intervening. The outcomes show that the brain isn’t self- remedying in anxious children. No one can think positively automatically. It is a truth that its natural to think adversely. Negative thoughts automatically come to a person’s mind while for positive thoughts, a person needs to be practiced and learned.


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