If you have an anxious child, their brain may show some different features than the brain of a child who does not exhibit anxiety. Alterations in the development of the fear center have been shown to possibly have an influence on the development of anxiety, leading scientists to believe that anxiety problems may in part be based in the physiology of the brain.
In this case, the researchers examined 76 children between the ages of seven to 9. At this age, anxiety-related traits and symptoms can be reliably identified. The parents of these children completed assessments that were designed to measure anxiety levels in the children. In addition, the researchers used non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to look at the children’s brain structure and function.
So what did they find? The results linking the structure of the amygdala with anxiety development were surprising. It turns out that children with high levels of anxiety actually had enlarged amygdala volume, the part of the brain associated with fear. They also found that the children that increased connectivity with other brain regions responsible for attention, emotion perception and regulation, compared to children with low levels of anxiety. In fact, the scientists were able to create an equation that reliably predicted the children’s anxiety level from the MRI measurements of amygdala volume and amygdala function connectivity.
“It is 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,” said Shaozheng Qin, one of the researchers, in a news release.