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New insight into anxiety

This is Science Today. People with high anxiety levels tend to be more likely to have their attention captured by things that are threatening or worrisome. Psychologist Sonia Bishop of the University of California, Berkeley says researchers have had new techniques to look at brain functioning to better understand what's going on.

Bishop: To a large extent, it's been assumed that the amygdala, which we know is very responsive to threat, might just be firing away too much when people are anxious and that may be leading to their attention being captured by these things which wouldn't normally bother someone who isn't very anxious.

Narrator: Bishop and her colleagues used MRI techniques to test subjects and found that contrary to the popular belief that engaging in mindless distractions helps anxious people, brain-sharpening activities - such as doing a crossword puzzle - were better.

Bishop: So, we're really interested in trying to look at this scientifically and to say, well hang on, is there evidence that for some individuals that may be what's critical is their ability to control their attention.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.