Contradicting Previous Theories, Neuroscientists Find Overlap Between Fear and Anxiety Brain Circuits

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Brain Network Artist Concept

Contrary to previous theories, fear and anxiety reflect shared neural building blocks.

Fear and anxiety reflect overlapping brain circuits, according to research published today (September 21, 2020) in JNeurosci. The findings highlight a need to reevaluate the existing models guiding anxiety research.

While “fear” and “anxiety” are often used interchangeably, prevailing scientific theory suggests that they are distinct, with different triggers and separate brain circuits. Fear — a fleeting reaction to certain danger — is thought to be controlled by the amygdala, whereas anxiety — a persistent, heightened state of distress in response to uncertain threat — is thought to be orchestrated by the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). However, new evidence from Hur et al. suggests these two brain regions are equally sensitive to certain and uncertain threat.

Fear and Anxiety Brain Circuits

Both certain and uncertain anticipation recruited a common network of core brain regions, including the Amygdala and BNST (depicted in red in the left column and bottom row). Magenta rings provide magnified views of the core BNST and Amygdala regions. Across a variety of head-to-head tests, the BNST and Amygdala showed statistically indistinguishable responses, as illustrated in the central panel. Each of the black dots represents an index of threat reactivity for 1 of the 99 research participants. Mean threat reactivity is indicated by the thick horizontal bars. Inset ring plot (top-right) indicates the percentage of individuals showing greater reactivity in the BNST compared to the Amygdala. A value of 50% indicates that participants were just as likely to show greater reactivity in one region compared to the other (i.e. a 50/50 toss-up). Taken together, these new observations underscore the need to reconsider widely accepted neuroscientific models of fear and anxiety. Credit: Hur et al., JNeurosci 2020

The research team measured brain activity with fMRI while people anticipated receiving a painful shock paired with an unpleasant image and sound. Waiting for threat, whether predictable or not in its timing, recruited an overlapping network of brain regions including the BNST and the amygdala. Across a variety of tests, the two structures showed statistically indistinguishable responses, suggesting that states of fear and anxiety are assembled from a common set of core neural building blocks. These observations raise important questions about the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health’s model guiding research into the biology of emotional disorders.

Reference: “Anxiety and the Neurobiology of Temporally Uncertain Threat Anticipation” by Juyoen Hur, Jason F. Smith, Kathryn A. DeYoung, Allegra S. Anderson, Jinyi Kuang, Hyung Cho Kim, Rachael M. Tillman, Manuel Kuhn, Andrew S. Fox and Alexander J. Shackman, 21 September 2020, JNeurosci.
DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0704-20.2020





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6 Comments
  1. BobApposite says

    “Contrary to previous theories, fear and anxiety reflect shared neural building blocks…”

    Well … contrary to *recent* theories, maybe.

    But any one who’s taken Psych 101 (and many who haven’t) know a famous theorist that linked them:

    Freud.

    Heck, he even linked neurotic anxiety to a *specific* fear – castration anxiety.

    So – “not true”.

    The most famous theorist in the history of the field linked fear & anxiety, a good 100 years ago.

  2. BobApposite says

    “Contrary to previous theories, fear and anxiety reflect shared neural building blocks…”

    LOL.
    I think they mean “contrary to recent theories”.

    After all, any one who’s taken Psych 101 (and many who haven’t) know a famous theorist that linked them:

    Freud.

    Heck, he even linked neurotic anxiety to a *specific* fear – the fear of castration.

    So claim = “not true”.

    The most famous theorist in the history of the field linked fear & anxiety, a good 100 years ago.

    This should be basic, historical knowledge for any one in that field.

  3. BobApposite says

    “prevailing scientific theory”

    Well, that’s your mistake.

    Freud explicitly linked fear and anxiety almost 100 years ago.

    He even linked neurotic anxiety to a particular fear – fear of castration.

    Freud *nailed* – absolutely nailed human nature & behavior.

    In 2020 it’s abundantly clear that everything Freud was writing about – ego, narcissism, sex, anxiety – are the forces that drive and shape our lives, politics, history, civilizations.

    Modern neuroscience is completely delusional.

    Choose your side…but I’ll warn you – the genome data we have today strongly suggests Freud is right, and his model is the only remotely realistic one.

    There’s a reason none of this cognitive/behavioral stuff is useful or replicable.
    There’s a reason the “prevailing theories” don’t hold up.

    It’s because they prevailed for all the wrong reasons.
    Modern theories reek of ego & desperation.

    “Immaculate Conception” / “Denial of the Origin of Our Species” theories:
    e.g.
    “The brain is like a computer”. No, it’s not.
    We are animals (see Darwin). Our brains instantiate animal instincts.

    Self-flattery: “We are inherently empathic / mirror neurons”
    No, we’re not. The most realistic model there is -> “emotional contagion”.

    Self-flattery: “Neuroplasticity”
    No, you are not the “master” of your brain.
    It is the master of you.

    The truth is – more and more – despite extensive attempts to ignore reality, ignore contradictory data, suppress theories that aren’t “flattering” like Freud’s – it’s becoming increasingly apparent that no amount of euphemism can disguise that we, and the world, is profoundly Freudian.

    Everything now, is beginning to come up Freudian, and will only accelerate.
    It’s because it is.

  4. BobApposite says

    “prevailing scientific theory”

    Well, that’s your mistake.

    Freud explicitly linked fear and anxiety almost 100 years ago.

    He even linked neurotic anxiety to a particular fear – fear of castration.

    Freud *nailed* – absolutely nailed human nature & behavior.

    In 2020 it’s abundantly clear who got human psychology correct. Ego, Narcissism, Sex, Anxiety?
    Freud wins hands-down.
    His models are more timely and relevant than ever.

    Whereas, “modern neuroscience” doesn’t even attempt to align with the real world, or real behavior.
    How could it?

    Choose your side…but I’ll warn you – the genome data we have today strongly suggests Freud is right, and his model is the only remotely realistic one.

    There’s a reason none of this cognitive/behavioral stuff is useful or replicable.
    There’s a reason the “prevailing theories” don’t hold up.

    It’s because they prevailed for all the wrong reasons.
    Modern theories reek of ego & desperation.

    “Immaculate Conception” / “Denial of the Origin of Our Species” theories:
    e.g.
    “The brain is like a computer”.
    No, it’s not.
    We are animals (see Darwin). Our brains instantiate animal instincts.

    Self-flattery: “We are inherently empathic / mirror neurons”
    No, we’re not. The most realistic model there is -> “emotional contagion”.

    Self-flattery: “Neuroplasticity”
    No, you are not the “master” of your brain.
    It is the master of you.

    The truth is – more and more – despite extensive attempts to ignore reality, ignore contradictory data, suppress theories that aren’t “flattering” like Freud’s – it’s becoming increasingly apparent that no amount of euphemism can disguise that we, and the world, is profoundly Freudian.

    Everything now, is beginning to come up Freudian, and will only accelerate.
    It’s because it is.

    What’s the saying?

    “Truth eventually outs”

  5. BobApposite says

    “prevailing scientific theory”

    Well, that’s your mistake.

    Freud explicitly linked fear and anxiety almost 100 years ago.

    He even linked neurotic anxiety to a particular fear – fear of castration.

    Freud *nailed* – absolutely nailed human nature & behavior.

    In 2020 it’s abundantly clear who got human psychology correct.

    Ego, Narcissism, Sex, Anxiety?

    Freud wins hands-down.
    His models are more timely and relevant than ever.
    Any analysis of human behavior, psychology, culture, history, politics – will draw heavily from Freudian concepts – because – people – are Freudian.

    Whereas, “modern neuroscience” is unable to add anything of value to any discussion of anything.
    How could it?
    It’s a delusional flight *from* reality.

    Choose your side…but I’ll warn you – the genome data we have today strongly suggests Freud is right, and his model is the only remotely realistic one.

    There’s a reason none of this cognitive/behavioral stuff is useful or replicable.
    There’s a reason the “prevailing theories” don’t hold up.

    It’s because they prevailed for all the wrong reasons.
    Modern theories reek of ego & desperation.

    “Immaculate Conception” / “Denial of the Origin of Our Species” theories:
    e.g.
    “The brain is like a computer”.
    No, it’s not.
    We are animals (see Darwin). Our brains instantiate animal instincts.

    Self-flattery: “We are inherently empathic / mirror neurons”
    No, we’re not. The most realistic model there is -> “emotional contagion”.

    Self-flattery: “Neuroplasticity”
    No, you are not the “master” of your brain.
    It is the master of you.

    The truth is – more and more – despite extensive attempts to ignore reality, ignore contradictory data, suppress theories that aren’t “flattering” like Freud’s – it’s becoming increasingly apparent that no amount of euphemism can disguise that we, and the world, is profoundly Freudian.

    Everything now, is beginning to come up Freudian, and will only accelerate.
    It’s because it is.

    What’s the saying?

    “Truth eventually outs”

    1. KorieHope says

      Thank you very much for your valuable feedback

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