Anxiety: The deception from the brain


Anxious people are not feeble-minded.

It is their brains that play the fool with them.


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It is very normal to worry about scary things – like speaking in front of hundreds of people, or losing someone you love. However, life gets much more complex when you start to feel fear in every single thing.

Anxiety sufferers view the world differently. What bother them are the things that you might believe are nothing to worry about. Imagine how you would live when you feel fear on everyday tasks such as driving, going to the place with people, or even opening the door for pizza delivery. The life would never be easy.

I can hear some of you saying. ‘Why don’t they just not worry?’, ‘they are being crazy’, ‘get over it’

Well, it is not something that they can put some efforts and get over the fear. It is actually their brain’s responsibility to confuse neutral everyday stuffs with such a massive disaster.

The recent study from Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel has revealed that the brain of people suffering from anxiety lacks of the ability to differentiate safe stimulus and dangerous stimulus, which behavioural phenomenon the researchers called ‘overgeneralisation’.

In the study, two groups of participants, one with anxiety disorder and one without, were trained with three different sound of tones, which were assigned as one of money gain (pleasant stimulus), money loss (stressful stimulus), and no outcome (neutral stimulus). Then, they listened to another 15 tones, and were asked to determine whether they have heard the tone during the training. As a result, people with anxiety confused new tones with money gain or loss much more than healthy people did, indicating their lack of ability to differentiate neutral, pleasant, and stressful stimuli.

It is easy to understand if you recall a well-known experiment called ‘Pavlovian dog’. Before the experiment, the dog salivated (unconditioned respond; UR) only when he saw food (unconditioned stimulus; US). What Pavlov did was ringing a bell (conditioned stimulus; CS) every time he fed the dog. The sound of the bell itself did not affect the dog’s salivation, however throughout the experiment, coincident of the sound and the food made the dog to associate them. Consequentially, the dog started to salivate (conditioned respond; CR) when he heard the ringing of the bell even when there was no actual food.




For anxious people, the salivation is being nervous, food is stressful or dangerous situation, and the bell sound is neutral situation. The only difference from Pavlovian dog is that the anxious people were not manipulated to confuse stressful and neutral situation, but it is their ‘perceptual inability to discriminate’ as a consequence of their brain mechanisms.

In a simple word, it is not their fault, they cannot control their anxiety.


Do you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness? Seek help:

How to get mental health help

List of mental health organisations

Mental Health Service in Australia

Lifeline Australia 13 11 14 (24 hour crisis hotline)



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