Paranoia alert! Your stress can make you sense danger in harmless situations
A recent study says that when older memories are coupled with stress, individuals are likely to perceive danger in harmless circumstances. Repeated stress and trauma may lead to increased risk for PTSD.
Do you get stressed easily? Does it affect your ability to function and think clearly? Practise meditating or positive self-talk or your next stop could be paranoia. A recent study has found that stress makes people sense danger in harmless situations.
Humans are thought to have learned to identify dangerous scenarios for self-defense. However, certain circumstances can cause people to misidentify such cues. The findings revealed that when older memories are coupled with stress, individuals are likely to perceive danger in harmless circumstances and repeated stress may lead to increased risk for PTSD.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which affects about 8 million adults every year, is a disorder characterised by the inability to discriminate threat from safety. “These findings provide important laboratory data that helps explain why PTSD symptoms are often exacerbated during times of stress, and how repeated stress and trauma in the battlefield may lead to increased risk for PTSD,” said Suzannah Creech from Dell Medical School.
Researchers from Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, New York University and McGill University shed light on fear generalisation, a core component of anxiety and stress-related disorders.
Lead study author Joseph Dunsmoor said that the human mind uses cues to danger learned over time for self-defense, but certain circumstances can cause people to misidentify those cues. Dunsmoor added, “Our research reveals that stress levels, and the amount of time since an adverse event promote this type of overgeneralisation.”
The researchers tested the effects of stress and time on a person’s ability to correctly identify a cue associated with a negative outcome. During the study, participants heard two tones with one followed by a shock, set by the participant at the level of “highly annoying but not painful.” The researchers then played the tones in the range of the two frequencies and gauged participants’ expectations of shock by self-report and data on skin responses that indicate emotional arousal.
One group took the shock expectancy test immediately after the initial shock. The second group took the test 24 hours after the initial shock. Both groups underwent the stress/control priming activity just before the shock expectancy test. This study provides new data that will help us care for people with disordered patterns of fear and worry. The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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