- People with anxiety have a stronger than usual desire to avoid negative outcomes, and people with depression have a lower desire to approach the reward in the first place.
- Several parts of the brain are involved in this process: the anterior cingulate cortex, prefrontal cortex, stereosomes, or prefrontal cortex.
People with anxiety tend to have a more negative attitude than others. The cognitive process involved remains unclear. New research published on June 30 in the journal Frontiers in NeuroscienceIt sheds light on what goes through the brains of people with anxiety when making a decision.
A new epidemic of anxiety
In previous research, negative mental states have been shown to upset the balance between the desire for reward and the difficulties you have in getting there. This leads to more pessimism in making and avoiding decisions. For example, scientists have found that people with anxiety have a stronger than usual desire to avoid negative outcomes, and people with depression have a lower desire to approach the reward in the first place.
To understand how the brain integrates feelings of anxiety into decision-making, Japanese neuroscientists at Kyoto University have compiled studies in recent years measuring the brains of mice and primates and correlated these findings with the human brain. “We are facing a new epidemic of anxiety, and it is important to understand how our anxiety affects our decision making., says Ken Ichi Emori, lead author of the study. There is a real need to better understand what is going on in the brain.
The anterior cingulate cortex is in the center of the play
Previous studies have highlighted the role of neurons in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) as playing an important role in decision-making. The CCA is also connected to other parts of the brain that play a role in integrating emotions into rational thinking.
Through a study of monkeys, researchers identified groups of neurons that turn on or off depending on the amount of reward or punishment offered. Neurons associated with avoidance and pessimistic decision-making were particularly focused in the prenatal CCA, an area associated with major depression and anxiety disorder. Microscopic stimulation of this area with a low-level electrical pulse, mimicking the effects of anxiety, caused the monkeys to avoid the reward.
Stereosomes play an unknown but important role
The scientists then looked for CCA’s previous connections with other parts of the brain. They discovered interconnections with many parts of the prefrontal cortex at the front of the human brain, especially associated with thinking skills.
They also observed a strong relationship with maze-like structures known as stereosomes. “Skeletal function has always been a mystery, but our experiments indicate that it is an important node that links pessimistic decision-making to the brain’s reward system and dopamine regulation.‘ says Ken Ichi Aimori.
The orbitofrontal cortex is also involved
Looking closely, the team identified a link between the striatum and another distant region: the orbitofrontal cortex, located at the front of the brain. It is also known that this part is involved in perception and decision-making. In his experiments with primates, the researchers found a very similar effect of this region on the monkey’s tendency to make pessimistic decisions. Curiously, the anterior orbitofrontal cortex and the anterior CCA also share many of the same connections with other parts of the brain.