Fear Of Uncertain Future Associated With Specific Brain Region


People who have difficulty coping with uncertainty, or the unpredictability of possible future threats were found by researchers to have an unusually large striatum.

The striatum is a brain region involved with both motor and action planning, motivation, decision-making, and reward perception. This region was earlier associated with general anxiety disorder.

“Uncertainty and ambiguity of potential future threats are central to understanding the generation of anxiety and anxiety disorders,” said researcher Justin Kim, Ph.D., at Dartmouth College. “Our research suggests a relationship between an individual's ability to deal with this uncertainty and the volume of gray matter within a specific area of the brain.”

The study involved 61 healthy students who each underwent an MRI of their brain, and completed a survey measuring their tolerance for the uncertainty of future unpleasant events. The investigators found the volume of an individual’s striatum was significantly correlated to his or her intolerance of uncertainty.

“People who had difficulty tolerating an uncertain future had a relatively enlarged striatum,” said Kim. “What surprised us was that it was only the striatum and not other parts of the brain we examined.”

Earlier studies showed people diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, and general anxiety disorder had greater striatum volume, but this is the first time it’s been measured in those without a confirmed diagnosis, and in association with intolerance of uncertainty.

“Our findings demonstrate that the relationship between increased striatal volumes and intolerance of uncertainty can be observed in healthy individuals,” said Kim. “Having a relatively enlarged volume of the striatum may be associated with how intolerant you are when facing an uncertain future, but it does not mean you have OCD or generalized anxiety disorder.”

The findings suggest that the striatum volume in young adults might predict those at risk for later anxiety disorder, or OCD onset. More important, tracking striatal volume during treatment for symptoms of these disorders could prove useful.

Source: Science Daily
Photo credit: affen ajlfe

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