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Mom-it helps when youre right here! Attenuation of neural stress markers in anxious youths whose caregivers are present during fMRI.

  • Author(s): Conner, Olivia
  • Siegle, Greg
  • McFarland, Ashley
  • Silk, Jennifer
  • Ladouceur, Cecile
  • Dahl, Ronald
  • Coan, James
  • Ryan, Neal
  • et al.
Abstract

Close proximity to an attachment figure, such as a caregiver, has been shown to attenuate threat-related activity in limbic regions such as the hypothalamus in healthy individuals. We hypothesized that such features might be similarly attenuated by proximity during a potentially stressful situation in a clinically anxious population of youths. Confirmation of this hypothesis could support the role of attachment figures in the management of anxiety among children and adolescents. Three groups were analyzed: anxious children and adolescents who requested that their caregiver accompany them in the scanner room, anxious children and adolescents without their caregiver in the scanner room and healthy controls (each of N = 10). The groups were matched for age and, among the two anxious groups, for diagnosis (mean age 9.5). The children and adolescents were exposed to physical threat words during an fMRI assessment. Results indicate that activity in the hypothalamus, ventromedial, and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex were significantly reduced in anxious children and adolescents who requested that their caregiver accompany them in the scanner room compared to those without their caregiver in the scanner room. Mean activity in these regions in anxious children and adolescents with their caregiver in the scanner room was comparable to that of healthy controls. These data suggest links between social contact and neural mechanisms of emotional reactivity; specifically, presence of caregivers moderates the increase in anxiety seen with stressful stimuli. Capitalizing on the ability of anxious youths to manifest low levels of anxiety-like information processing in the presence of a caregiver could help in modeling adaptive function in behavioral treatments.

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