Anxiety good to keep us away from trouble

Updated: Apr 07, 2008, 14:09 PM IST

Washington, April 07: Doctors might term it as a clinical disorder, but anxiety may sometimes prove good to keep us safe and secure.

It just might be our mind's and body's way of warning us against making a potentially bad decision, psychologists say.

Although, dwelling on its negative can lead to chronic stress and phobias, a study published in the April issue of Psychological Science said anxiety holds some functional value as it teaches us to avoid harm not only in the face of basic threats such as predators or rotten food, but also from more complex social or economic threats such as enemies or questionable investments.

A team of psychologists at Stanford University have identified a region of the brain, the anterior insula, which plays a key role in predicting harm and also learning to avoid it.

The experts scanned the brains of healthy adults while they anticipated losing money. It was found that adults with greater activation of their insula were better at learning to avoid financial losses.

On the contrary, participants with low levels of insula activation had a harder time learning to avoid losses and ended up losing more money as a result.

However, experts agreed that excessive insula activation might prove problematic, as prior studies have shown that people who are chronically fearful and anxious have abnormal patterns of insula activation.

So, while people with excessive insula activity are at risk of developing clinical conditions like anxiety and phobias, higher levels of insula activation in the normal range may allow people to avoid potentially harmful situations, the study concluded.

Bureau Report