Preschool Anxiety Changes the Brain
[Source: Yale Daily News]
Anxiety disorders observed in preschoolers — including social phobia, separation anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder — can lead to physiological changes in brain development, a new study from the Yale Child Study Center shows.
The researchers imaged the brains of children with and without preschool anxiety disorders. They found that in those who had an anxiety disorder, the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, two regions whose “cross-talk” is important in modulating anxiety, effectively talked less to each other in a phenomenon known as weaker functional connectivity. They also found that different anxiety disorders led to different connectivity patterns.
In other words, not only are anxiety disorders strongly based in biology, but they also result in physically different brains.
“Now that [we] know what a mechanistic brain characteristic of anxiety looks like in preschoolers, we have a much more reliable and quantitative [understanding of anxiety rather] than a broad diagnosis,” said Kevin Pelphrey, senior author and the co-director of the center for translational developmental neuroscience.
Helen Egger, senior author and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center, said she believes that preschool anxiety disorders are too often misperceived as transient, insignificant childhood problems. This study, she said, disproves that notion and shows that preschool anxiety disorders can leave “enduring differences in brain function.”