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Anxiety and Brain Networks of Attentional Control

Ghassemzadeh, Habibollah PhD*; Rothbart, Mary K. PhD; Posner, Michael I. PhD

Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology: March 2019 - Volume 32 - Issue 1 - p 54–62
doi: 10.1097/WNN.0000000000000181
Historical Perspective

Advances in the study of brain networks can be applied to our understanding of anxiety disorders (eg, generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive, and posttraumatic stress disorders) to enable us to create targeted treatments. These disorders have in common an inability to control thoughts, emotions, and behaviors related to a perceived threat. Here we review animal and human imaging studies that have revealed separate brain networks related to various negative emotions. Research has supported the idea that brain networks of attention serve to control emotion networks as well as the thoughts and behaviors related to them. We discuss how attention networks can modulate both positive and negative affect. Disorders arise from both abnormal activation of negative affect and a lack of attentional control. Training attention has been one way to foster improved attentional control. We review attention training studies as well as efforts to generally improve attention networks through stimulation in self-regulation.

*Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran

Department of Psychology, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon

Supported in part by grants from the Office of Naval Research (N00014-15-1-2148 and N00014-17-1-2824) to the University of Oregon.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Correspondence: Michael I. Posner, PhD, Department of Psychology, 1227 University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon 97403 (e-mail:

Received August 6, 2018

Accepted November 19, 2018

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