Changing Anxious Minds

People with social anxiety disorder (SAD) show changes in brain from cognitive behavior therapy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Social anxiety -- a condition marked by heightened fears of interacting with others and of being harshly judged -- responds to psychotherapy, changing the way the brain looks in medical scans.

New research led by David Moscovitch of the University of Waterloo (in collaboration with McMaster University’s Louis Schmidt, Diane Santesso, and Randi McCabe, along with Martin Antony of Ryerson University) finds changes in the brains of social anxiety patients who had undergone 12 weeks of group cognitive behavior therapy, according to EEGs, or electroencephalograms, which measure brain electrical interactions in real time.

Two control groups of students who tested extremely high or low for symptoms of social anxiety did not undergo psychotherapy.

Electroencephalograms (EEGs) initially revealed the clinical group's delta-beta coupling -- the thinking patterns that perpetuate painful, self-destructive behaviors -- to be similar to those of the high-anxiety control group and far higher than those in the low-anxiety control group. After 12 weeks of therapy, patients' brains looked more similar to those in the low-anxiety control group.

Some of the patients were taking medication, however, which may have confounded results. Still the research acts as an important first step toward a better understanding of anxiety and effective treatments.

The study was funded by the Ontario Mental Health Foundation.

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) ranks as one of the most common psychiatric disorders in the U.S., along with major depression and alcohol abuse, affecting about 15 million American adults.

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Review Date: 
February 16, 2011
Last Updated:
February 16, 2011