New brain evidence provides insight into why highly anxious people are worst at making decisions when things get unpredictable Credit: Illustration by Ian Smiley
Highly anxious people have more trouble deciding how best to handle life’s uncertainties. They may even catastrophize, interpreting, say, a lovers’ tiff as a doomed relationship or a workplace change as a career threat.
In gauging people’s response to unpredictability, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Oxford found that people prone to high anxiety have a tougher time reading the environmental cues that could help them avoid a bad outcome.
Their findings, reported today (Monday, March 2), in the journal Nature Neuroscience, hint at a glitch in the brain’s higher-order decision-making circuitry that could eventually be targeted in the treatment of anxiety disorders, which affect some 40 million American adults.
“Our results show that anxiety may be linked to difficulty in using information about whether the situations we face daily, including relationship dynamics, are stable or not, and deciding how to react,” said study lead author Sonia Bishop, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and principal investigator of the study.
“It’s a bit like being Alice in Wonderland, trying to work out if the same rules apply or if everything is different and if so, what choices you should make,” she added.