A leading neuroscientist says that we’re fundamentally misunderstanding how anxiety and fear work, Science of Us reports.
LeDoux blames some of his own work for this misconception, saying that labeling the amygdala the “fear circuit” has led to “all kinds of bad consequences in the field.” The biggest problem, according to LeDoux? He believes that fear and anxiety aren’t necessarily “wired into the brain as a basic response to the world around us,” but instead two separate phenomenon that originate from many different parts of the brain and only after your brain picks up and responds to the first threat of danger.Confused? Basically, LeDoux argues that while your brain will kick into defense mode when it detects a threat, conscious feelings of fear and anxiety don’t manifest until after your body has readied itself to take action. However, LeDoux argues that it’s become commonplace to act as though there’s no difference between fear and anxiety and your body’s threat responses (often, the way researchers study fear is by measuring the brain’s reaction to immediate threats), which informs everything from the way we view anxiety to the way we treat it. Consequently, he argues, anti-anxiety drugs target the “fear circuit” but not the fear or anxiety itself. In order to truly be effective, anxiety meds have to “engage differently on each level — the whirling subliminal, automatic circuitry that patients aren’t even aware of needs to be subdued before the second-step project of addressing the higher level of conscious thoughts and feelings can begin.”
LeDoux admits that trying to change years of thinking about anxiety in a particular way is a challenge, but it’s one he believes is well worth it. “Not everyone is happy with this,” he told Science of Us. “But as a scientist you have some obligation to get as close to the truth as you can, and nothing gets in the way of truth as much as language does.”
Source: Joseph LeDoux Thinks We’re Wrong About the Fear Circuit and Anxiety