Social stress + darkness = increased anxiety

Oct 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 stressor 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!”

Source: Elsevier

Explore further: No cookie-cutter divorces, so what info should online co-parenting classes offer?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Singapore grapples with smartphone addiction

Jun 14, 2014

Easily distracted? Can't be separated from your smartphone? Constantly checking your device for no real reason? Chances are you're an addict—and you may even need professional help.

Barriers to opportunity

May 09, 2014

How much does your neighborhood determine your life chances? Sociologist and urban planner Xavier de Souza Briggs recently completed a 20-year social experiment on ghetto poverty that asked: If people in ...

Researcher: Technology not to blame for teen woes

May 07, 2014

Danah Boyd has made a name for herself at the research division of Microsoft for painstaking work examining social media, Big Data and the tension between public and private lives, but it's her teens'-eye ...

Recommended for you

Junk food makes rats lose appetite for balanced diet

12 hours ago

A diet of junk food not only makes rats fat, but also reduces their appetite for novel foods, a preference that normally drives them to seek a balanced diet, reports a study published in the open-access journal ...

User comments : 0