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Sources of Anxiety Disorders

Because these disorders vary in complexity and degree, scientists have yet to find clear reasons why one person develops them and another doesn't. The following factors are often cited as possible sources of the problems.


Some scientists trace the origin of anxiety to the brain and brain functioning. Using sophisticated positron emission tomography scans (PET scans), scientists can analyze areas of the brain that react during anxiety-producing events. Families appear to display similar brain and physiological reactivity, leading some to indicate that we may inherit our tendencies toward anxiety disorders.


Others indicate that anxiety is a learned response. Though genetic tendencies may exist, it is experiencing a repeated pattern of reaction to certain situations that programs the brain to respond in a certain way. For example, monkeys separated from their mothers at an early age are more fearful, and their stress hormones fire more readily, than those that stayed with their mothers. If your mother (or father) screamed and carried on whenever a large spider loped into view, or if other anxiety-raising events occurred very frequently, you might be predisposed to react with anxiety to similar events later in your life. Animals also experience such anxieties - perhaps from being around their edgy owners.

Social and Cultural Roles

Because men and women are taught to assume different roles in society (such as man as protector, woman as victim), women may find it more acceptable to scream, shake, pass out, and otherwise express extreme anxiety. Men, on the other hand, have learned to "stuff such anxieties rather than act upon them; thus culture and social roles may also be a factor in risks for anxiety.