Anxious Girls' Brains Forced to Work Harder than Boys'

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New research shows that the brains of anxious girls work harder than boys especially when the girls make a mistake during a task. This finding may help determine if girls are prone to problems such as obsessive compulsive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.

“This may help predict the development of anxiety issues later in life for girls,” said lead researcher Jason Moser of Michigan State University. “It’s one more piece of the puzzle for us to figure out why women in general have more anxiety disorders.”

Participants in the research study were asked to wear a cap with electrodes which measured brain activity. They were then asked to perform a task. If they made a mistake during the task, the girls who were identified as anxious or worriers were more prone to record higher brain activity.

Anxious brains lead to overthinking

“Anxious girls’ brains have to work harder to perform tasks because they have distracting thoughts and worries,” explained Moser. “As a result, their brains are being kind of burned out by thinking so much, which might set them up for difficulties in school. We already know that anxious kids – and especially anxious girls – have a harder time in some academic subjects such as math.”

Women are natural multi-taskers. If during times of stress girls can be taught singular focus or be given other strategies for anxiety reduction, perhaps this preemptive training could help reduce anxiety disorders.

Moser and his research team at MSU are taking their research a step further. Now they are investigating whether or not estrogen, a hormone found predominantly in women, may have something to do with the increased brain activity during a stressful task.