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Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center

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Is Dread Driving Your Decisions?

Study: Dread Roosts in Brain, Often Prompts 'Get It Over With' Attitude

Getting It Over With continued...

Then the researchers gave participants another choice: Get a stronger shock sooner, or a milder shock later.

For instance, participants could choose to wait three seconds to get a shock at 90% of their pain threshold or to wait 27 seconds for a shock at 60% of their pain threshold.

Nine people (28%) chose to get the stronger shock sooner. Berns' team dubbed those people "extreme dreaders." The others, called "mild dreaders," opted to wait longer for the gentler shock.

The extreme dreaders had more activity in a brain region involved in attention, the study shows.

"The key factor seems to be that extreme dreaders devoted more attention toward the part of their body that was about to be shocked," Berns says, in a news release. "This is important because it means that dread is not quite the same as fear or anxiety."

Distracted From Dread

Dreading an upcoming event? Distracting yourself before it happens might help.

"The dread associated with things like medical procedures or public speaking, while real, can probably be alleviated by diverting one's attention during the waiting period," Berns says.

"There may be many ways to do this, ranging from meditation to sports, or even a movie," he continues. "The benefits could be substantial if it means that we act more rationally in terms of getting health care, or simply decreasing the psychological toll of dread and anxiety."

Berns' study didn't test distraction as a way of coping with dread.

A journal editorial notes that as the first of its kind, Berns' study has limits, such as the constraints of brain scans. However, the editorial calls the study "a superb new edition to the nascent field of neuroeconomics."

The editorial was written by George Loewenstein, PhD, of the social and decision sciences division at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University.

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