Some Scientists Suggest Chronic Anxiety Is a Learning Disorder

iStock.com/SIphotography
iStock.com/SIphotography

People with anxiety see the world a little differently, and some scientists have suggested that they learn differently, too. As Daniel Barron argues in Scientific American, recent research has raised an intriguing possibility: that chronic anxiety could be a learning disorder.

As evidence, he points to a 2015 paper that was penned by psychiatrist Michael Browning, of the University of Oxford, and several of his colleagues. Browning wanted to study how people learn—which historically has been pretty hard to do—so he designed an experiment that would test participants' learning rates in stable versus "volatile" situations. The idea that anxiety could be a learning impairment is a novel idea (though past studies have shown that people with certain learning disabilities are more susceptible to mental illness). There isn't much data to back it up just yet, but the theory could guide future research pertaining to anxiety and learning. "There's a lot of promise," Browning told Scientific American. "What there isn't is a lot of data."

Nonetheless, the results are worth noting. Titled "Anxious individuals have difficulty learning the causal statistics of aversive environments," the paper—published in the journal Nature Neuroscience—details the findings of an experiment that was adapted from a previous learning test. In the newer experiment, 31 subjects were asked to choose between different shaped patches. For each "incorrect" object chosen, the test subject received a "moderately painful" electric zap. In the first block of the experiment, the outcome was stable, meaning that one of two patches delivered a shock with a probability of 75 percent. The second leg of the experiment was more unpredictable, and the shape that had previously delivered the most shocks "reversed on five occasions."

"The difference in participants' learning rate between the stable and volatile task blocks provided a measure of participants' ability to adapt their learning to changes in environmental volatility," researchers write. "To perform the task optimally, participants had to integrate the information about shock magnitude and shock probability, the latter needing to be inferred from the outcome of previous trials."

Researchers discovered that non-anxious people were able to adapt their strategy when the game got more volatile, while anxious people who tested higher on the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory showed a "deficit" in adjusting and responding to the changes.

As Scientific American notes, this study needs to be expanded and replicated before we draw any definitive conclusions about the ways in which people with anxiety learn.

[h/t Scientific American]

The New Apple Watch SE Is Now Available on Amazon

Apple/Amazon
Apple/Amazon

Apple products are notorious for their high price tags. From AirPods to iPads to MacBooks, it can be difficult to find the perfect piece of tech on sale when you are ready to buy. Luckily, for those who have had their eye on a new Apple Watch, the Apple Watch SE is designed with all the features users want but at a lower starting price of $279— and they're available on Amazon right now.

The SE exists as a more affordable option when compared to Apple's new Series 6 line of watches. This less expensive version has many of the same functions of its pricier brethren, except for certain features like the blood oxygen sensor and electrical heart sensor. To make up for the truncated bells and whistles, the SE comes in at least $120 cheaper than the Series 6, which starts at $400 and goes up to $800. The SE comes with technical improvements on previous models as well, such as the fall detection, a faster processor, a larger screen, water resistance, and more.

Now available in 40mm ($279) and 44mm ($309), both SE models offer a variety of colors to choose from, such as sliver, space gray, and pink. If you want cellular connection, you’ll have to pay a bit more for the 40mm ($329) and the 44mm ($359).

For more, head to Amazon to see the full list of offerings from Apple.

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100 Fascinating Facts About Earth

The best Spaceball.
The best Spaceball.
NASA

Did you know that there’s a place in the South Pacific Ocean called Point Nemo that’s farther from land than any other point on Earth? So far, in fact, that the closest humans are usually astronauts aboard the International Space Station. (And by the way: The map you’re about to look for Point Nemo on might not be entirely accurate; a certain amount of distortion occurs when trying to depict a 3D planet on a 2D surface.)

In this all-new episode of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is journeying to the center of the Earth, and visiting its oceans, its atmosphere, and even space, in search of 100 facts about our endlessly fascinating planet.

The subjects that fall under the umbrella of “facts about Earth” are nearly as expansive as Earth itself. Geology, biology, astronomy, and cartography, are all fair game—and those are just a few of the many -ologies, -onomies, and -ographies you’ll learn about below. 

Press play to find out more Earth-shattering facts, and subscribe to the Mental Floss YouTube channel for more fact-filled videos here.