Sweaty palms and increased heart rate are just two examples of how anxiety can affect a person. In a new study, anxiety also affects how hard the brain works.
That important deadline or a big test may have the worrier inside of us panicking which increases stress, leading to those tell-tale signs of anxiety. For girls, anxiety may cause your brain to work harder, causing it to burn out and you to perform worse in the long run.
Using a simple electrode cap, the study, led by Jason Moser, PhD, from the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University, measured brain activity of 149 students completing a simple task.
The task involved identifying the middle letter of a five-letter sequence. The students, 79 female and 70 male, also filled out questionnaires about how much they worry. While performance was pretty much equal for male and female students, brain activity in girls who were worriers was higher than the other students.
Anxiety made the task more difficult for the girls to complete causing their brain to work harder. As the test increased in difficulty, and individuals were more prone to make mistakes, the females who were identified as anxious performed worse. The anxiety caused the female student's brain to work overtime because it had to compete with distracting thoughts and worries in addition to completing the task. Over time, this could lead to the brain being overburdened, burning out and more likely to get something wrong.
This burdening of the brain could lead to many problems, including underachievement at school. Anxiety can affect school performance for males and females, not researchers who cite previous studies associating anxiety with difficulty in subjects like math. Using an electrode cap to measure brain activity could also help doctors diagnose anxiety disorders.
The reason for this increased brain activity may be due to a hormonal difference in males and females. Estrogen may play a role in increasing brain activity in females, note researchers. Estrogen has been show to affect dopamine, which could be stimulating parts of the frontal lobe that are involved with learning.
To help reduce anxiety, researchers recommend brain challenges to improve memory and writing out worries to help alleviate stress.
The study was published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology.