Unpredictability and Uncertainty in Anxiety: A New Direction for Emotional Timing Research

Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University Durham, NC, USA.
Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience 09/2011; 5:55. DOI: 10.3389/fnint.2011.00055
Source: PubMed
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Available from: Kevin S. LaBar, Jun 11, 2014
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    • "Moreover, the prefrontal cortex has been strongly implicated in duration processing (Brunia et al., 2000; Lewis and Miall, 2003; Smith et al., 2003), possibly through working memory related functional integration of time related information or direction of attentional resources (Meck and Macdonald, 2007). Prior research suggests that some anxiety disorders such as PTSD, but not all, are operated through a shared neural pathway underlying the experience of temporal unpredictability during anticipation (Lake and Labar, 2011). Specifically, the anterior insula and the striatum appear to be activated during the expectation and evaluation of upcoming events in healthy controls (Lovero et al., 2009; Wittmann et al., 2010a). "
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    ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: Exposure to psychological stress during combat can lead to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Anticipation of aversive events is often associated with an intense emotional state in individuals with PTSD. Both the valence (i.e., positive or negative) of the anticipated event and the degree of temporal predictability (i.e., one's ability to predict when an event will occur) have profound effects on an individual's emotional experience. This investigation tested the hypothesis that individuals with combat-related PTSD would show increased activation in the insula and related emotion-processing circuitry when anticipating emotionally significant events such as portrayed in combat-related images, and this heighted response within the insula would be particularly enhanced during temporal unpredictability. METHODS: About 15 male veterans with PTSD and 15 male veterans with combat-exposure but no current or lifetime history of PTSD (combat exposed controls/CEC) performed a temporal unpredictability anticipation task of unpleasant (combat-related) and pleasant images during fMRI. RESULTS: As expected, greater activation in the bilateral anterior insulae was observed in the PTSD versus the CEC subjects during anticipation of combat-related images when the anticipatory period was of uncertain duration (p<0.05). Furthermore, activation in the right anterior insula was related to greater perceived threat in the CEC group (ρ=0.619). LIMITATIONS: The current study looks only at combat-related PTSD in a modest preliminary sized sample. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that an excessive anticipatory reaction in individuals with PTSD to temporally unpredictable aversive stimulus may relate to greater perceived threat. These findings are concordant with psychological models of PTSD that focus on the association of PTSD with the experience of decreased predictability and control.
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    ABSTRACT: Over the past decades, behaviour and cognitive psychology have produced fruitful and mutually converging theories from which hypotheses could be derived on the nature and origin of fear and anxiety disorders. Notwithstanding the emergence of effective treatments, there are still many questions that remain to be answered. Here, I will argue that the burgeoning field of behavioural neuroscience may advance our understanding of fear, anxiety disorders and its treatments. Decades of fear-conditioning research across species have begun to elucidate the neurobiological mechanisms underlying associative fear learning and memory. The fear-conditioning paradigm provides a well-controlled and fine-grained research platform to examine these processes. Although the traditional fear conditioning paradigm was originally designed to unveil general principles of fear (un)learning, it is well-suited to understand the transition from normal fear to pathological fear and the mechanisms of change. This paper presents 1) a selection of fear conditioning studies on the generalization and persistence of associative fear memory as intermediate phenotypes of fear and anxiety disorders, and 2) insights from neuroscience on the malleability of fear memory with the potential to provide a long-term cure for anxiety and related disorders.
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