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    "Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain. "
    Joseph Campbell, posted by Cat Dancer


Dec 21, 2007
Abuse and Anxiety - Early Abuse Related to Anxiety
by William Meek
January 29, 2008

Abused Children Spot Visual and Auditory Cues of Anger More Often

Our earliest experience with the world can have a profound impact on our development for the rest of our lives.

Beliefs about self, others, and the world begin forming at the beginning of our lives, leaving us susceptible for distorted thinking and difficulty later in life if some of these experiences were extremely negative and harmful. Based on this, researchers at the University if Wisconsin examined the relationship between childhood trauma and anxiety.

Specifically, they analyzed how child abuse could relate to the child experiencing high levels of anxiety. Theoretically, children who experience abuse start to are more attuned to cues of anger and threat compared to children who did not experience abuse. The following will give a brief overview of the study, as well as some hypotheses for future work on how this may relate more directly to generalized anxiety disorder.

The Study
The current study exposed abused and non-abused children (age range 7-12) to visual (facial expressions) and auditory (voices) stimuli that contained some level of emotional intensity. They monitored the reactions of the children to these stimuli through brain imaging and other methods, and were particularly concerned with how attention to certain material was different between the groups.

The Results
The authors summarized the results this was: “…we found that abused children (a) exhibited increased voluntary attention toward both facial and vocal anger cues, (b) were involuntarily drawn to vocal anger cues, and (c) were especially responsive to facial signals of anger from their own parent. These features of children’s cognitive processing of emotion appear related to children’s problems with anxiety.”

What This Means
Essentially, this gives some very sound scientific data to how abuse can change a child’s cognitive processing of information. Since anxiety is a part of our primitive fear response, these changes show how we naturally adapt to threatening situations.

The question then becomes -- particularly for people that struggle with generalized anxiety disorder -- how may this be related to later life anxiety? I don't think it is too much of a leap to consider that this way of processing information can continue later into life as we shape our view of the world, and we may be more sensitive to discovering anger or other fear provoking elements in the environment because of this.

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