While it’s been known that anxiety may be genetic, scientists have not learned how it is inherited or which areas of the brain are involved. But in a recent study conducted on monkeys by the National Institutes of Health and the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, they may be closer to finding an answer.

Studying Brain Activity In Anxious Monkeys

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers placed more than 300 monkeys in stressful situations and then closely watched their brain activity. For example, researchers would stand in the monkey’s cage without making eye contact for 30 minutes, which is a tactic used when studying anxiety in children.

The fMRI, which measures oxygenation changes in blood, helped researchers to study the central nucleus of the amygdala, the region of the brain that processes fear and emotion, and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis in the brain to see if there were connections between the two during the stress tests.

A Link Between The Brain And Anxious Body Language

What the study revealed was that there was increased activity in the two regions of the fear-processing part of the brain in the monkey’s who showed the most outwardly-physical anxiety and that those monkey’s ancestors had similar brain responses.

The findings in the study strongly suggest that there is a correlation between these specific brain regions and anxiety. In addition, the researchers found that although some of these monkeys had a history of the same brain response, environmental factors in their early childhood could play a role in their behavior.

The Connection Between Monkey And Human Anxiety

Many studies before this one have linked similarities between monkeys to humans, which means this study could help scientists learn more about anxiety in humans. In fact, which this study, researchers now better understand how anxiety develops and how it is passed from a parent to a child.

From here, more studies are being conducted to analyze the genes of those who have shown the increased activity in the specific brain circuit. With more research, it may be possible to find the underlying cause of anxiety which would ultimately help with treatment.