-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
THURSDAY, Aug. 29 (HealthDay News) -- It might be a good idea to
back off a bit when dealing with people who suffer from anxiety,
according to a new study, because the disorder seems to affect the
need for more personal space surrounding the body, also called
British researchers found that people with anxiety perceive
threats as closer, compared with those who are not anxious. They
said their findings could be used to link defensive behavior to
levels of anxiety, particularly among those with risky jobs, such
as firefighters and police officers.
In conducting the study, Dr. Chiara Sambo and Dr. Giandomenico
Iannetti, from University College London, recruited 15 people
ranging in age from 20 to 37 and gave them a test to rate their
level of anxiety in certain situations.
In addition, the researchers applied an electrical stimulus to a
nerve in each participants' hand, which caused them to blink. This
hand-blink reflex, which is not controlled by the brain, was
monitored as the participants held their hand at four different
distances from their face: ranging from about 2 inches to nearly 2
feet. By measuring the strength of their reflex, the investigators
determined how dangerous the participants viewed each stimulus.
The study, published in the Aug. 27 issue of the
Journal of Neuroscience, revealed that those who scored
higher on the anxiety test reacted more dramatically to stimuli
about 8 inches from their face compared with those who had lower
anxiety scores. People who reacted strongly to the stimuli farther
away were classified as having a large "defensive peripersonal
space," the study authors said.
Anxious people viewed threats as closer than those who were not
anxious -- even if the perceived threats actually were the same
distance away, the researchers said. Although the brain does not
trigger defensive reactions, the study authors said, it could
control their intensity.
"This finding is the first objective measure of the size of the area surrounding the face that each individual considers at high risk, and thus wants to protect through the most effective defensive motor responses," Iannetti said in a university news release.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about
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