A new study has revealed that anxious people, who are considered to be more fearful and threatened than their counterparts, are actually not 'hypersensitive'.
As part of a study on how the brain processes fear in anxious and non-anxious individuals, Tahl Frenkel, a Ph.D. candidate in TAU's School of Psychological Sciences and the Adler Center for Research in Child Developmental and Psychopathology, working with her supervisor Prof. Yair Bar-Haim, measured brain activity as study participants were shown images designed to induce fear and anxiety.
Using an EEG to measure electrical activity caused by the neuronal activity that represents deep processing of these stimuli, the researchers discovered that the anxious group was actually less stimulated by the images than the non-anxious group.
Surprisingly, anxious study participants were not shown to be as physiologically sensitive to subtle changes in their environment as less fearful individuals, Frenkel explained.
She theorized that anxious people could have a deficit in their threat evaluation capabilities - necessary for effective decision-making and fear regulation - leading to an under-reaction to subtle threatening stimuli.
When confronted with a potential threat, Frenkel concluded, non-anxious people unconsciously notice subtle changes in the environment before they consciously recognize the threat.
Lacking such preparation, anxious individuals often react more strongly, as the threat takes them more 'by surprise.'
"The EEG results tell us that what looks like hypersensitivity on a behavioral level is in fact the anxious person's attempt to compensate for a deficit in the sensitivity of their perception," she said.
The study has been recently published in Biological Psychology.