The Brain Training That Could Reduce Sadness and Anxiety

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Brain scans showed that people who practised a difficult version of this task coped better with negative emotions.

Computer training can change how the brain regulates emotional reactions, a new study finds.

Researchers have found that a simple attentional training task encourages the brain to ignore irrelevant information.

The task involves identifying whether arrows on the screen are pointing left or right.

At the same time people were asked to ignore other arrows on the screen placed there to distract them.

Brain scans showed that people who practised a difficult version of this task later coped better with negative emotions.

Dr Noga Cohen, the study’s first author, said:

“These findings are the first to demonstrate that non-emotional training that improves the ability to ignore irrelevant information can result in reduced brain reactions to emotional events and alter brain connections.

These changes were accompanied by strengthened neural connections between brain regions involved in inhibiting emotional reactions.”

Dr Cohen explained the results:

“As expected, participants who completed the more intense version of the training (but not the other participants) showed reduced activation in their amygdala — a brain region involved in negative emotions, including sadness and anxiety.

In addition, the intense training resulted in increased connectivity between participants’ amygdala and a region in the frontal cortex shown to be involved in emotion regulation.”

The researchers hope this could lead to new treatments, said Dr Cohen:

“It is our hope that the current work would lead to further testing and potentially the development of effective intervention for individuals suffering from maladaptive emotional behavior.

While acknowledging the limitations of this study, which was based on a relatively small number of healthy participants and focused on short-term effects of the training, this may prove effective for individuals suffering from emotion dysregulation.”

The study was published in the journal Neuroimage (Cohen et al., 2015).

Image credit: Bada Bing

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Published: 11 January 2016

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