Why Do Mood and Anxiety Disorders Lock In Negativity?

There may be a glitch in the brain's emotional control center.

Posted Oct 31, 2019

geralt/Pixabay, used with permission
Abnormalities in the brain may result in persistent negativity.
Source: geralt/Pixabay, used with permission

Mood and anxiety disorders—characterized by persistent and often recurring negativity—make up more than half of psychosocial disabilities throughout the world, and many people who suffer from these conditions do not respond to standard treatments. If you’re one of them, research offers new hope.

In a recent study from the University of British Columbia, published in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers looked at why patients with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder get stuck in negative moods and thinking patterns that are not only tenacious and nonstop but often seem inescapable. The researchers performed a meta-analysis of more than 9,000 brain scans from previously published studies, comparing the brain activity of 4,755 healthy adults to the brain activity of 4,507 patients diagnosed with mood and anxiety disorders. From the analyses, they determined that these patients shared the same abnormalities in areas of the brain that are involved in controlling both cognition and emotion.

The researchers found that patients who suffer from these mental health conditions have significantly lower activity in the inferior prefrontal and parietal cortex, insula, and putamen regions of the brain, areas that are actively involved in brain circuitry for cognitive and emotional control, and for stopping ongoing mental activities and switching to new ones. The researchers also found that those with mood and anxiety disorders also displayed hyperactivity in the anterior cingulate cortex, left amygdala, and thalamus, brain regions that work together to process feelings and emotions.

Why is this important? This study provides a foundation for further research into these shared characteristics that specifically targets these areas of the brain and could lead to more and better treatments for those who are living with mood and anxiety disorders.


Janiri D, Moser DA, Doucet, GE, et al. Shared neural phenotypes for mood and anxiety disorders: A meta-analysis of 226 task-related functional imaging studies. JAMA Psychiatry. First published online October 30, 2019.