Researchers found out that people with anxiety cannot discriminate between safe or dangerous circumstances. Thus neutral or normal situations become threatening to them.
Participants suffering from anxiety and healthy participants had to listen to 3 different sounds and associate them with 3 different consequences. Money loss (negative), money gain (positive), or no consequences (neutral).
After that both groups had to listen to 15 new sounds they didn’t hear before. They were asked if they heard the negative sound.
The study was published in the journal Current Biology
Despite the fact that the negative tone was not replayed, people with anxiety stated to hear the negative sound more often than people without anxiety. People with anxiety over-generalized and mistook a new tone for the negative tone.
Moreover the researcher’s conducted MRI scans of the brain. They found an over-activation in certain brain areas responsible for fear, the so called amygdala.
“Our study suggests that people with anxiety cannot discriminate, at the most basic level, between stimuli that have an emotional content and similar mundane or daily stimuli,” Paz, lead author of the study, said.
“This in turn might explain the anxious response that they exhibit to scenarios that seem regular, normal or non-emotional to anyone else – their brain cannot discriminate and responds as if it is the anxious stimulus,” he added.
The study is small, and more research involving more people is still needed to understand how or whether anxiety may directly cause shifts in how people perceive the world around them, Paz said.