Social Stress + Darkness = Increased Anxiety

New study published in Biological Psychiatry

Philadelphia, PA, October 23, 2007 – Just in time for Halloween, researchers are releasing new data that show darkness increases the impact of social stress, in an article scheduled for publication in the November 15th issue of Biological Psychiatry. As children and adults alike gear up for the anticipation and excitement of this "spooky" holiday, this study lends a further understanding to our inherent fear of the dark.

Grillon and colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health sought to examine whether stress increases unconditioned fear in humans. To do this, they measured the startle reflex of healthy volunteers in either light or dark conditions, and after either a socially stressful situation of public speaking, or after a period of relaxation. The startle response is a sensitive tool for measuring anxiety levels, and in this study, was measured when volunteers were presented with white noise stimuli via headphones. The authors found that the startle response was boosted when the volunteers were in complete darkness, and this effect was more pronounced after the stressor.

Dr. Christian Grillon, lead author on the project, explains, "Because stress has been linked to the precipitation of emotional disturbances, sometimes to a pathological level, it is important to understand how stress affects our brain and behavior." He adds, "We report that a mild acute stress or increases subsequent experimental anxiety in healthy subjects. The demonstration of stress-induced anxiety in the laboratory is important because it provides how stress alters nervous system function."

John H. Krystal, M.D., Editor of Biological Psychiatry and affiliated with both Yale University School of Medicine and the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, comments, "The authors show that social stress and darkness interact to increase the startle response. The refinement of this research method may help us to understand how threatening contexts and stressful social interactions interact at a mechanistic level to contribute to anxiety disorders." Although this work is performed to further the scientific community’s understanding of anxiety disorders, nearly all of us have felt scared or anxious in the dark at one time or another. So, the next time you check for monsters in the closet before climbing into bed, or when you peer into the dark bushes before your next "trick-or-treat," just remember that it's normal to jump when someone shouts "Boo!"

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Notes to Editors:
The article is "Acute Stress Potentiates Anxiety in Humans" by Christian Grillon, Roman Duncko, Matthew F. Covington, Lori Kopperman and Mitchel A. Kling. Drs. Grillon, Covington, and Kopperman are affiliated with the Unit of Affective Psychophysiology, Intramural Research Program, while Dr. Duncko is with the Section on Developmental Genetic Epidemiology, Intramural Research Program, and Dr. Kling is with the Mood and Anxiety Disorder Program, all at the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institute of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, in Bethesda, MD. The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 62, Issue 10 (November 15, 2007), published by Elsevier.

Full text of the article mentioned above is available upon request. Contact Jayne M. Dawkins at (215) 239-3674 or ja.dawkins@elsevier.com to obtain a copy or to schedule an interview.

About Biological Psychiatry
This international rapid-publication journal is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry. It covers a broad range of topics in psychiatric neuroscience and therapeutics. Both basic and clinical contributions are encouraged from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major neuropsychiatric disorders. Full-length and Brief Reports of novel results, Commentaries, Case Studies of unusual significance, and Correspondence and Comments judged to be of high impact to the field are published, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Concise Reviews and Editorials that focus on topics of current research and interest are also published rapidly.

Biological Psychiatry is ranked 4th out of the 95 Psychiatry titles and 16th out of 199 Neurosciences titles on the 2006 ISI Journal Citations Reports® published by Thomson Scientific.

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Media Contact:
Jayne Dawkins
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ja.dawkins@elsevier.com