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Effect of low-grade anxiety on neural, psychophysical and physiological activity in an experimental pain paradigm

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abstract
Anxiety is considered to influence both general health and activities of daily living. Individuals with certain types of clinical anxiety exhibit increased thresholds to painful thermal stimuli, likely to suppress their pain experiences and to facilitate anxiety-specific behavior. It is not known whether pain-related findings from the clinical realm of anxiety also apply to healthy, non-treatment seeking subjects with low-grade anxiety. We therefore employed psychophysical, physiological and functional neuroimaging methods to investigate how inter-individual differences in inherent low-grade anxiety and perceived acute pain are related. Scientific data suggest that low-grade anxiety harbors an adaptive advantage. To explore if this putative advantage reflects a particularly favorable pattern of autonomic and cognitive-emotional processing, we additionally performed analyses of heart rate variability, as their measures are indices of autonomic flexibility and neuro-visceral integration. Results demonstrated that individuals with low-grade anxiety exhibited unique experiential, behavioral, physiological, and brain processing features that putatively set them apart from both non-anxious and clinically anxious subjects. Low-grade anxiety, presumably as a motivational input, suppressed painful experiences and shaped associated processes. Hence, pain-modulating systems do not respond in a constant fashion to noxious stimuli, but will be engaged according to the overall contextual goal of the organism. Elevated metrics of heart rate variability in the low-grade anxious subjects suggested an ability to maximally harness neurobiological processing systems to ensure optimal behavior and supported claims of an adaptive advantage linked to low-grade anxiety. Consequently, individual mood differences must be taken into account both when designing experiments and when their results are interpreted. More research will be needed to further characterize anxiety-proneness and to allow the involved emotional-motivational and cognitive mechanisms to be fully harnessed for use in clinical situations.
subject
Adaptive behavior
Central autonomic control
fMRI
Heart rate variability
Human
contributor
Hadsel, Morten Sand (author)
Coghill, Robert C (committee chair)
Laurienti, Paul J (committee member)
Houle, Timothy T (committee member)
McHaffie, John G (committee member)
Salinas, Emilio (committee member)
date
2011-07-14T20:35:40Z (accessioned)
2012-01-14T09:30:12Z (available)
2011 (issued)
degree
Neurobiology & Anatomy (discipline)
embargo
2012-01-14 (terms)
identifier
http://hdl.handle.net/10339/33460 (uri)
language
en (iso)
publisher
Wake Forest University
title
Effect of low-grade anxiety on neural, psychophysical and physiological activity in an experimental pain paradigm
type
Dissertation

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