One-way fear signals

Cues make it tough for anxious kids to regulate emotions

Strong signals from the brain’s fear centers make it harder for anxious and stressed children to regulate their emotions, according to new Stanford research.

Image by fizkes

The research, published April 21 in Biological Psychiatry, explored how anxiety and chronic stress change emotion-regulation circuits in 10- and 11-year-olds. Brain scans examined signals between one of the two amygdalae — fear centers on the brain’s right and left sides — and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region involved in decision-making and regulating emotion.

Anxious and stressed kids had stronger signals from the fear center to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, but no such effects in the reverse direction. They were also less able to modify their emotional reactions during the study.

“This study shows that the communication between our emotional centers and our thinking centers becomes less fluid when there is significant stress,” said senior author Vinod Menon, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

Additional Reading

‘I’ve trained my whole life for this’

Stanford Medicine’s infectious disease epidemiologist Bonnie Maldonado is tapping her years of experience fighting deadly viruses to foster focus and calm amid the COVID-19 chaos.

The invader

On a mission to survive, the coronavirus leaves behind a trail of destruction. Here’s how it works and what an army of scientists is doing to try to end its rampage.