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Article Addresses Current Research into the Development of Anxiety and Depression

Posted Jan 14 2009 7:23pm

Here is a fairly comprehensive article that reviews some current research into the development of anxiety and depression disorders in teenagers. The researchers note anxiety and depression are often comorbid, and that anxiety usually (but not always) develops first). They also discuss the role neuroticism plays as a precursor to an anxiety disorder. The article is a bit confusing here, as they describe neuroticism in a manner that sounds an awful lot like anxiety. However, what they appear to be describing is neuroticism as a personality style that leads to individuals to experience negative feelings in excess of what the situations demands, which in turn leads to the development of anxiety, described more as an Axis I disorder. In the study, individuals were shown green and red cards; the green cards were “safe,” while the red cards signified “danger,” and were accompanied by mild shocks (following a build up to the shocks). Individuals high on neuroticism responded with a more generalized fear response, while low-neuroticism individuals exhibited fear only as the shock approached. The thinking is that individuals with high levels of neuroticism tend to generalize their anxious responses over time, to situations that don’t pull for it, or at least don’t have adverse responses consistent with the level of fear experienced. From the article:

"This is interpreted as neuroticism leading to enhanced anxiety under conditions associated with aversive events but in which negative events themselves are very unlikely," Craske said. "It may represent a failure to distinguish conditions that are safe from conditions in which threatening events are very likely to occur. By translation, these findings suggest that persons with high neuroticism would respond with appropriate fear to actual threatening events, but with additional unnecessary anxiety to surrounding conditions. This type of responding may explain why neuroticism contributes to the development of pervasive anxiety."

The article also reviews another study examining the potential for anxiety in children ages 7-12. From the article:

Craske and her colleagues measured physiological responses to a cue that was associated with — or "conditioned" to — a brief, loud noise. They then measured how fast these responses disappeared or extinguished when the cue was presented without the loud noise. They found an increase in sweat gland activity during the conditioning phase in anxiety-disordered children, and less extinction of this response in the at-risk children to cues that signaled the loud noise and also cues that did not signal the loud noise.

These findings suggest that anxiety and risk for anxiety in children are associated with "elevated excitatory responding to ' threat' cues and impaired inhibition of responses to ' safe' cues," according to Craske. The latter finding parallels the findings of unnecessary anxiety to conditions surrounding threatening events in adolescents high in neuroticism.

Interesting stuff, and extremely relevant. Research like this will continue to help treatment providers focus on the cognitions and behaviors that play a role in reinforcing these maladaptive responses to environmental cues. I won’t go into detail on my take on anxiety and depression again, but here is a link to a post I wrote some time ago related to these issues.

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