The development of drugs needed to effectively address fear and anxiety disorders has been hindered because of the misinterpretation of the way some parts of the brain function, two U.S. researchers wrote in an analysis published in the American Journal of Psychiatry on Friday.

“Progress has stalled in treatment development for mental disorders,” according to Joseph LeDoux, a professor at New York University’s Center for Neural Science, and Daniel Pine, who leads the Section on Development and Affective Neuroscience at the National Institute of Mental Health's Intramural Research Program.

“Promising new treatments either have not turned out to be useful when tested with patients or exhibit potential adverse effects that limit their applicability to severe disorders. We argue that this state of affairs reflects how fear and anxiety have been conceived, and we offer a new framework to address the problem,” LeDoux and Pine stated.

According to the researchers, for long the common perception has been that advances in neuroscience would transform treatment for psychiatric disorders. However, they noted that the misunderstanding of the way the brain is wired in terms of fear and anxiety has obstructed the development of effective treatments. According to the researchers, the emotion of fear has been misinterpreted to mean that it leads to both the experience of fear, which is the feeling of being scared of getting harmed, and to behavioral and physiological symptoms.

“Failure to recognize this difference has impeded understanding of fear and anxiety and their treatment,” the researchers said. “Going forward, recognition of this distinction should provide a more productive path for research and treatment.”

“Behavioral and physiological symptoms may be treatable with either medications or certain psychotherapies, such as cognitive behavior therapy, while conscious feelings may have to be addressed with psychotherapeutic treatments that are specifically designed to change these,” they added.

The authors, however, stressed that human research is necessary to understand conscious feelings in the brain. In addition, animal research would prove helpful in understanding the brain mechanisms that cause the non-conscious processes that control behavioral and physiological responses.

“Our ability to understand the brain is only as good as our understanding of the psychological processes involved,” the researchers said, adding, “If we have misunderstood what fear and anxiety are, it is not surprising that efforts to use research based on this misunderstanding to treat problems with fear and anxiety would have produced disappointing results.”