Neuroscientists tend to distinguish two separate paths for processing anxiety. Within certain limits they do correspond to the two lines set out by psychoanalysis: paranoid and depressive. Two functional pathways have been identified. The one for anxiety seems to be based on the central and lateral nuclei of the amygdala, while panic or separation anxiety seems to come from the anterior cingulate gyrus which, in turn, has dense thalam-ic and hypothalamic connections (as well as with the BNST and the ven-tral-tegmental area). All these areas are essential for sexual and maternal behavior in the lower mammals .
This system is also greatly influenced by endogenous opioids-as also by oxytocin and prolactin, whose role in facilitating mothering is well known. As an aside, in some autistic children the opioid system is hyperactive, and this might be related to their reduced need for affective exchange.
Separation is painful because of the lowered levels of cerebral opioids, which normally stimulate the infant, who depends on its carer figure close by to boost its subjective well-being, and help ensure survival. The child reacts to separation first by seeking then by withdrawing; this is rather like the way a prey "freezes" to escape predators, and bears some resemblance to true depressive withdrawal.
The fear system is also connected with flight responses, through the short subcortical pathway, and with attack through the medial nucleus of the amygdala. The attack reaction is based on anger (anger-rage), a very heated aggressivity accompanied by activation of the sympathetic autonomous system. It is stimulated by frustration of biologically important aims. The "cold" types of aggressivity, such as predatory aggression and forms related to the dominant role, seem to use different neuronal pathways, shared with seeking processes.
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