Stress alters reality


The effects of loss can go beyond mild depression and irrational behavior. Loss can compromise our perception and interfere with reality. New research provides new insight into the neurological mechanisms underlying post-traumatic stress disorder.

Stress resulted from the sound of a bell

The findings came from an experiment conducted by Dr. Rony Paz and research student Offir Laufer of the Neurobiology Department at the Weizmann Institute. Volunteer subjects were asked to participate in an experiment involving classic conditioning and money. Musical tones were used to designate financial gain and loss. Eventually, findings showed that the subjects improved in their tasks when they heard tones denoting financial gain. When they heard the tone denoting financial loss, they got worse. It was the tone and not the information that caused a stressful reaction.

Functional MRI (fMRI) revealed that parts of the brain involved in emotional responses were involved in the task: the amygdala, which is tied to emotions and reward, as well as the front of the brain, which moderates emotional response. After a while, the front of the brain did not moderate response appropriately, but responded instead to the tone.

Emotional centers reacted to perception not reality

Paz explains:

"The evolutionary origins of that blurring of our ability to discriminate are positive: If the best response to the growl of a lion is to run quickly, it would be counterproductive to distinguish between different pitches of growl. Any similar sound should make us flee without thinking. Unfortunately, that same blurring mechanism can be activated today in stress-inducing situations that are not life-threatening – like losing money – and this can harm us."

New insight for people with PTSD

People who suffer from PTSD, they may be unable to distinguish between the moderate and severe triggers for stress. They may end up experiencing strong emotional reactions in inappropriate circumstances. Future research from the Paz team will look into these possibilities.

Source: MedicalNewsToday, Journal of Neuroscience


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