New Research Suggests That Adults Whose Mothers Experienced High Anxiety Levels During Pregnancy Have Reduced Connectivity Between Key Brain Regions And May Experience Difficulties Managing Emotions, Handling Stress, And Making Decisions

Africa Studio - - illustrative purposes only, not the actual person

Scientists in Belgium recently conducted a neuroimaging study on 28-year-olds and found that people whose mothers faced higher anxiety levels while pregnant showed reduced functional connections between the medial prefrontal cortex and the left inferior frontal gyrus in their brains.

This weaker connectivity might cause difficulties in managing emotions, handling stress, and making decisions.

Over the last ten years, numerous studies involving neuroimaging have found associations between the mental health challenges or psychological distress of mothers during pregnancy and the brain features of their offspring. Experts believe this could indicate that a mother’s mental health problems during pregnancy impact the development of the fetal brain and lead to changes that persist into adulthood.

Depression and anxiety are the most prevalent of these mental health concerns. So, Elise Turk, the study’s author, and her colleagues set out to explore the connections between maternal anxiety during pregnancy and the functional traits of certain brain regions in their children once they’ve reached adulthood.

Turk and her team were also able to analyze participants from a longitudinal study that actually began 28 years prior to their research. So, the latest study included 52 people who were all 28 and whose mothers had been part of the longitudinal study starting in 1986.

At the beginning of the longitudinal study, these mothers were 18 to 30 weeks pregnant and did not have any complications related to their pregnancy or health risks. They also avoided using any medications or substances that could harm their babies.

All of the participants spoke Dutch and were evaluated using the State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) to measure their anxiety levels. Then, through these evaluations, the researchers were able to divide the mothers into groups of either “high anxiety” or “low-to-medium anxiety.”

These evaluations were also conducted repeatedly– beginning during pregnancy, then when their child was 1 week old, 10 weeks old, and 28 weeks old. Additionally, the evaluations continued at the ages of 8 or 9, 14 or 15, 17, and 20 years old.

Once the offspring reached 28 years old between 2014 and 2015, the researchers then conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of their brains. The findings indicated that individuals with mothers in the high anxiety group typically exhibited reduced functional connectivity between the medial prefrontal cortex and left prefrontal cortex, as well as with certain areas in the left hemisphere of the brain.

Africa Studio – – illustrative purposes only, not the actual person

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