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A new study on anxiety and social threats has provided some important information on anxiety in general, and on how the brains of anxious people detect threats in social situations. According to the researchers the human brain is wired to spend more power processing social situations that involve real or perceived threats, and this is especially true in people that are anxious or that suffer from anxiety. Some researchers believe that the differences noted may explain what many people call a sixth sense or intuition, that inner feeling that many people get which signals danger even though there is no obvious threat at this moment. The study showed that individuals who were typically calmer and more laid back showed different brain activity and active brain areas used for threat detection that were different than what was seen in the brain of individuals with anxiety.

In the past it was believed that anxiety caused individuals to become over sensitive to signals that could mean impending threats, but the new study on anxiety and social threats shows that this is not the case. People without anxiety tend to process threats in areas of the brain that are responsible for recognizing facial expressions. People who have anxiety tend to process perceived threats in different brain areas which are responsible for actions instead of facial recognition. These important brain function and active area differences show that anxiety is perceived and processed very differently by the two groups. According to Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris and French Institute of Health and Medical Research investigator Marwa El Zein, Ph.D., who was also the lead author on the study, “In a crowd, you will be most sensitive to an angry face looking towards you, and will be less alert to an angry person looking somewhere else.”