A study showed that people with generalized anxiety disorder unconsciously label harmless things as threats, which may serve to further their anxiety. These findings were published in the journal Current Biology.
Psychologists recognize several forms of clinical anxiety. The most common is generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, in which people frequently feel very worried or anxious even when it seems like there’s nothing to worry about.
Some studies have suggested that anxiety disorders may stem from a process called overgeneralization.
In overgeneralization, the brain lumps both safe and unsafe things together and labels them all unsafe. For this reason, the researchers also call this the “better safe than sorry” approach. Our brains naturally pay more attention to negative or threatening information in our environments. If anxious people perceive more threats in the world around them, it would make a lot of sense for them to be worried.
… The researchers also administered brain scans during the testing phase. They found notable differences between anxious and non-anxious brains. While they were focused on parsing new information, anxious people showed more activation in several parts of the brain, including the amygdala, a region associated with fear and worry.
… Therefore, anxiety patients respond emotionally to such new stimuli as well, resulting in anxiety even in apparently irrelevant new situations. Importantly, they cannot control this, as it is a perceptual inability to discriminate.”