June 5, 2012 —
Science Daily/Michigan State University
In a discovery that could help in the identification and treatment of anxiety disorders, Michigan State University scientists say the brains of anxious girls work much harder than those of boys.
"This may help predict the development of anxiety issues later in life for girls," said Moser, assistant professor of psychology. "It's one more piece of the puzzle for us to figure out why women in general have more anxiety disorders."
Although the worrisome female subjects performed about the same as the males on simple portions of the task, their brains had to work harder at it. Then, as the test became more difficult, the anxious females performed worse, suggesting worrying got in the way of completing the task, Moser said.
"Anxious girls' brains have to work harder to perform tasks because they have distracting thoughts and worries," Moser said. "As a result their brains are being kind of burned out by thinking so much, which might set them up for difficulties in school. We already know that anxious kids -- and especially anxious girls -- have a harder time in some academic subjects such as math."
Currently Moser and other MSU researchers are investigating whether estrogen, a hormone more common in women, may be responsible for the increased brain response. Estrogen is known to affect the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in learning and processing mistakes in the front part of the brain.
The study, reported in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, is the first to measure the correlation between worrying and error-related brain responses in the sexes using a scientifically viable sample (79 female students, 70 males).