One of the most effective methods for dealing with emotional arousal is emotional reappraisal. This technique involves taking an initial emotional response and re-evaluating it in such a way to diffuse its impact. For people with posttraumatic stress (PTSD) and other anxiety issues, threats, fears, and worries are often the first response when presented with an emotionally negative cue. This results in avoidance, withdrawal, and increased anxiety symptoms.
Learning how to reappraise those emotional responses can alleviate anxious symptoms. The neurological mechanisms involved in emotional reappraisal are located in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Research on anxiety has suggested that this area of the brain is impaired in individuals with anxiety and therefore limits their ability to perform emotional reappraisals.
Manber T. Ball of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Diego wanted to test this theory further because research into PFC activation is unclear. Some research suggests hyperactivation, while other studies indicate hypo-activation. Ball chose to examine PFC activation in a sample of 18 individuals with panic (PD), 23 with generalized anxiety (GAD) and 22 with no history of anxiety-related conditions as controls (HC). Ball administered magnetic resonance imaging of the participants while they completed a reappraisal task based on negative images. The participants also reported their frequency of emotional reappraisal during daily life.
The results revealed that the participants with GAD used reappraisal techniques least often in daily life and that led to higher levels of anxiety and lower quality of life. During the study task, participants with both PD and GAD had similarly low levels of PFC activation compared to the HC participants. This low level of activation was directly associated with higher levels of anxiety and functional difficulty.
Ball believes that these findings clearly show that anxiety-related issues are related to PFC impairment, yet this study cannot clearly determine if anxiety is the cause or the result of the PFC impairment. Ball also points out that although only reappraisal was examined in this study, other subclassifications of reappraisal, including detachment and emotional shifting, should also be tested. Ball added, “A better grasp of the processes employed is important in moving past simply examining differences in activation location and intensity, and towards a more nuanced and mechanistic understanding.”
Ball, T. M., et al. (2013). Prefrontal dysfunction during emotion regulation in generalized anxiety and panic disorders. Psychological Medicine 43.7 (2013): 1475-86. ProQuest. Web.
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.