Study says kids with anxiety have bigger 'fear centers'

A new study could shed some light on children who have issues with anxiety.

Researchers at Stanford University's School of Medicine say kids with anxiety problems have larger amygdalae — the area of the brain known as the "fear center." (Flickr / greg westfall)

Researchers looked at 76 children between ages 7 and 9. Parents completed assessments about their kids' anxiety levels.

The study's authors also used non-invasive MRI scans to look at the children's brains.  (Via Flickr / Penn State)

They found kids with bigger amygdalae, as well as more connectivity with the areas of the brain responsible for attention and emotion perception, had higher levels of anxiety than other kids. (Flickr / Tracy Abildskov)

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They were even able to come up with an equation that predicted anxiety levels based on MRI measurements of amygdala volume and connectivity.

The study's first author explains its importance: "Understanding the influence of childhood anxiety on specific amygdala circuits ... will provide important new insights into the neurodevelopmental origins of anxiety in humans." (Via Elsevier)

Bioscholar News sees treatment possibilities here — that awareness of the amygdala's importance could mean better treatment for kids at risk of anxiety disorders at earlier ages.

Still, HealthDay is skeptical, noting the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

The researchers went with children ages 7-9 because they say anxiety levels can be first be accurately identified in that age range. The study is out in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

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