Anxiety Could Be The Reason You Made A Bad Decision

Anxiety doesn’t just affect the way we feel — it can also have a significant impact on our daily behaviors, including our ability to make sound decisions.

A new study from neuroscientists at the University of Pittsburgh finds that anxiety disengages the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that’s critical for flexible decision-making, as well as attention and higher-order thinking.

“Anxiety is a mental health issue that affects our day-to-day life, including our decision-making,” Dr. Bita Moghaddam, a neuroscientist at the university and the study’s lead author, told The Huffington Post in an email. “By understanding the biological processes that make this happen, we can hopefully come up with better ways of treating this aspect of anxiety.”

For the study, which was published last week in The Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers monitored the activity of neurons in the prefrontal cortex of rats to see how their brain activity affected their decision-making ability.

Half of the rats were given an injection of an anxiety-inducing drug while the other half received a placebo injection. The rats then completed two decision-making tasks in which they were challenged to make the most optimal choices that led to a reward.

When the rats completed the task, both groups performed similarly. However, when they completed it for a second time researchers included environmental distractions, which resulted in the anxious rats making poorer decisions.

Why does anxiety lead to bad decisions in the face of distractions? On a neurological level, the researchers found that anxiety had a numbing effect on neurons in the prefrontal cortex. In other words, anxiety has a selective effect on the type of neuron activity that supports decision-making.

“Behavior including making decisions is encoded by specific groups of neurons in the brain,” Moghaddam said. “Anxiety essentially weakens the encoding power of a group —> Read More