Latest News » Study: Anxious children exhibit larger “fear center” in brain

A new study finds that an enlarged amygdala may be to blame for heightened anxiety levels in children.

A new study finds that children with heightened levels of anxiety may have an enlarged "fear center" in their brain to blame.

HealthDay News reports that research conducted at the Stanford University School of Medicine evaluated 76 children between seven- and nine-years-old, the earliest possible age for reliable detection of anxiety symptoms. By examining the children's brain structures with MRI scans, and comparing these images to information provided by parents on their kids' anxiety, the study team was able to ascertain that children who exhibited higher degrees of anxiety also boasted a larger amygdala, the portion of the brain that processes fear responses.

"It's a bit surprising that alterations to the structure and connectivity of the amygdala were so significant in children with higher levels of anxiety, given both the young age of the children and the fact that their anxiety levels were too low to be observed clinically," Dr. Shaozheng Qin, one of the study's authors, said in an official news release.

The researchers, whose findings were published in the June issue of the Biological Psychiatry journal, were also able to establish a method of predicting anxiety in children by using brain scans to measure the size of their amygdala and evaluate its interactions with other sections of the brain.

Although the study did not prove a definitive cause-and-effect link between anxiety levels and amygdala size, Qin noted that this does allow them to better identify anxiety disorder risks in young children as well as better understand how the brain fosters anxiety.

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