How anxiety can trip our brains

Researchers have long wondered why people with anxiety can be paralysed when it comes to decision-making.

Yuko Munakata, psychology professor at the University of Colorado in the US, believes that people with anxiety have decreased neural inhibition, which makes decision-making difficult.

Neural inhibition is a process that occurs when one nerve cell suppresses activity in another -- a critical aspect in our ability to make choices.

"A lot of the pieces have been there," Munakata was quoted as saying in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"What`s new in this work is bringing all of this together to say here`s how we can fit all of these pieces of information together in a coherent framework explaining why it`s especially hard for people with anxiety to make decisions and why it links to neural inhibitors," Munakata said in a University of Colorado release.

"We found that if we increased the amount of inhibition in this simulated brain (model), then our system got much better at making hard choices," said Hannah Snyder, psychology graduate student who worked with Munakata on the study.

"If we decreased inhibition in the brain, then the simulation had much more trouble making choices."

There are two ways in which the research could help in improving treatments for anxiety, according to Snyder.

While specific medications that increase neural inhibition are currently used to treat the emotional symptoms of anxiety disorders, the findings suggest that they might also be helpful in treating the difficulty those suffering from anxiety have in selecting one option when there are too many choices.