Lead author Dr. Siobhan S. Pattwell, a postdoctoral fellow at the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Weill Cornell and Dr. Francis Lee of Weill Cornell Medical College and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center said acquired fear can be difficult to extinguish in some adolescents.
"Our findings are important because they might explain why epidemiologists have found that anxiety disorders seem to spike during adolescence or just before adolescence," Pattwell said in a statement. "It is estimated that over 75 percent of adults with fear-related disorders can trace the roots of their anxiety to earlier ages."
In the experiment, a group of volunteers -- children, adolescents and adults -- wore headphones and sweat meters and were asked to look at a computer screen with a sequence of blue or yellow square images. One of the squares was paired with a really unpleasant sound.
If the participants acquired a fear of the noise, they showed increased sweat when viewing the image that was paired with it, Pattwell said. The next day, the same teens again viewed a sequence of blue or yellow squares, but this time there was no associated noise.
"But teenagers didn't decrease their fear response, and maintained their fear throughout subsequent trials when no noise was played," Pattwell said.