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When teens experience danger or fear, those feelings remain strong even after the threatening situation has gone, according to new research findings from the Weill Cornell Medical College.
The report found that when a threat hits an adolescent’s brain, his or her capacity to make the fear disappear is lost, which could account for the anxiety and stress present during teen years.
"This is the first study to show, in an experiment, that adolescent humans have diminished fear extinction learning," said Dr. Siobhan S. Pattwell of Weill Cornell Medical College.
"Our findings are important because they might explain why epidemiologists have found that anxiety disorders seem to spike during adolescence or just before adolescence. It is estimated that over 75% of adults with fear-related disorders can trace the roots of their anxiety to earlier ages."
The study looked at decoding fear acquisition and fear extinction learning at the neuron level. Synaptic activity in mice was examined because of its similarity to human networks. Results from the trial revealed that during adolescence changed plasticity is present in the prefrontal cortex of the brain as well as an inability to let fear go.
"This study is the first to show activity, at the synaptic level, for both fear acquisition and fear extinction – and we find that while these areas function well in both younger and older mice, neurons involved in fear extinction are not as active in adolescent mice. If adolescents have a more difficult time learning that something that once frightened them is no longer a danger, then it is learn that the standard desensitization techniques from fear may not work on them," said Dr. Francis Lee of Weill Cornell Medical College.
Source: MedicalNewsToday, Weill Cornell Medical College
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