Home Medizin Studie zeigt Einfluss des sozioökonomischen Status auf die Angst von Kindern in Forschungsumgebungen

Studie zeigt Einfluss des sozioökonomischen Status auf die Angst von Kindern in Forschungsumgebungen

von NFI Redaktion

Research studies have shown that moderately or severely anxious children from minority groups tend to be hypervigilant to threats, which exacerbates the effects of their overall anxiety levels, reported a psychologist from the University of California, Riverside.

The study, which involved 46 prepubescent Latina girls (8–13 years) from the inland area of Southern California, also highlighted impacts on children from low socioeconomic status families.

„Psychological research is often conducted in white, educated, and affluent communities,“ said Kalina Michalska, associate professor of psychology who led the research team. „People from minority groups or those with low income and/or limited access to education often have not been exposed to scientific research and have been exploited by science in the past, contributing to their discomfort or justified distrust.“

As part of the study, the girls first completed a lab test session where they and their caregivers reported on family demographics as well as the girls‘ behavior, fears, and other mental health outcomes. They then underwent an emotion processing task in an MRI scanner, where they viewed images of fearful and happy faces projected into the scanner tube while researchers measured their brain responses.

„Trait anxiety“ is a constant state of anxiety, while „state anxiety“ is defined as a temporary feeling of anxiety, such as when receiving test results at the doctor’s office or giving a public speech.

The researchers found that in girls with moderate to high levels of trait anxiety, the anxiety state before the MRI examination was associated with stronger brain responses—particularly an enhanced amygdala-hippocampus response—to fearful faces (threat stimuli) compared to happy faces. This means that a generally anxious participant temporarily experienced high levels of anxiety when placed in a stressful environment like the MRI scanner.

Kalina Michalska, Associate Professor of Psychology, UCR

Published in the open-access journal BMC Psychiatry, the study showed that girls who perceived their families as less esteemed in the community tended to have increased anxiety in the scanning condition, suggesting that factors like social status can influence children’s reactions to the research environment.

Michalska, an expert in pediatric anxiety disorders, urges neuroimaging researchers to control for state anxiety and help participants of all backgrounds feel as comfortable as possible during testing sessions.

„Without considering state anxiety, data from experiments like ours could be mistakenly attributed to temperament, environmental, or cultural factors rather than the perception of the research environment,“ she said.

According to Michalska, the differences in brain activity are due to current anxiety and not anxiety disorders when children at risk for an anxiety disorder (trait anxiety) experience „momentary“ anxiety (state anxiety).

„When interpreting the data, it is important not to mistakenly associate the results with an anxiety disorder or an entire community when it is only temporary and situational anxiety,“ she said. „Brain responses in experiments like ours do not necessarily have to be attributed to the fact that participants are Latina, for example, but to their historical experiences with science. Our participants were highly anxious because they entered a historically hostile space.“

Michalska hopes that the team’s findings can lead to new conversations about mental health.

„Doctors may change their approach to the mental health of their patients, and teachers may think differently about the mental health of their students,“ she said. „Our data show that socioeconomic status may play an important role in the anxiety of patients and students, suggesting that the scanning environment may trigger anxiety particularly in participants who feel marginalized compared to other members of society.“

Next, the researchers plan to measure social experiences, such as parents‘ experiences with racial discrimination and children’s experiences witnessing it. They also plan to measure children’s vicarious experiences resulting from observing their parents‘ encounters with racial discrimination.

Michalska was supported in the research by her former doctoral student and lead author of the paper Dana E. Díaz, now at the Irving Medical Center of Columbia University in New York, and Wan-Ling Tseng from Yale University in Connecticut.

The research was funded by a grant from the Hellman Fellows Program and a subaward from the National Institute of Health’s UCR Center for Health Disparities Research.

The title of the research paper is: „Scan Condition Anxiety is Associated with a Stronger Right Amygdala-Hippocampus Response to Fearful Compared to Happy Faces in Latina Girls with Anxiety.“


University of California – Riverside

Journal reference:

Díaz, DE, et al. (2024) Scan Condition Anxiety is Associated with a Stronger Right Amygdala-Hippocampus Response to Fearful Compared to Happy Faces in Latina Girls with Anxiety. BMC Psychiatry. doi.org/10.1186/s12888-023-05403-6.

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