The ‘piece of the mind’ responsible for peace of mind

Researchers have initially identified the neural pathways that control peace of mind in the human brain, which could lead to the development of new therapies in the treatment of anxiety disorders and depression.

Preliminary results indicate the important role of the hippocampus in controlling anxiety and risk assessment during exposure to a threatening situation, potentially revealing how it affects peace of mind. The hippocampus was previously thought to be primarily associated only with long-term memory and spatial awareness: it might also play an important part in controlling the tendency to worry.

The study is being carried out by scientists from the Centre for Neuroimaging Sciences at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College and aims to identify the precise brain systems that control anxiety and fear in humans by measuring brain activation in normal healthy volunteers as they react to a perceived threat.

Previous results using questionnaires suggest that individuals with higher levels of underlying anxiety tend to exaggerate potential threats, resulting in them being unable to react appropriately to dangerous situations. This phenomenon is known as 'behavioural inhibition'.

This is the first time behavioural inhibition has been examined using functional MRI, where participants are chased by real and perceived threats on a joystick-operated runway task – a Pac-Man-style video game that is played inside the scanner – developed by Dr Adam Perkins (who leads the project, under the direction of Professor Stephen Williams).

Dr Perkins, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Neuroimaging at King's College London, added: ‘Anxiety and fear were once thought of as wholly learned disease states; however, it is now widely suspected they are useful responses to threat that help keep the individual away from trouble. In this project we are aiming to verify whether or not this is also the case in humans, and this could help us understand the brain systems that control anxiety and fear.’

In a recent survey of levels of positive and negative feelings across Britain, AXA found that the public in general are feeling significantly less positive about life than in 2007, when the last norms were published: the average score for ‘positive affect’ among 2000 people was 16.03, down from 19.48.

In the survey, a loving relationship was found to be the most important factor in creating long-term peace of mind (65%): a secure job and having money in savings followed with 45% and 41%, respectively. The largest contributors to anxiety were job or career concerns (44%), personal financial situation (43%), specifically debt (33%). Nearly a quarter (23%) said government spending cuts are in their top three concerns.

Share this article

More services


This article is featured in:
Target Identification/ Validation


Comment on this article

You must be registered and logged in to leave a comment about this article.