Anterior cingulate and medial prefrontal cortex oscillations underlie learning alterations in trait anxiety in humans
Anxiety has been linked to altered belief formation and uncertainty estimation, impacting learning. Identifying the neural processes underlying these changes is important for understanding brain pathology. Here, we show that oscillatory activity in the medial prefrontal, anterior cingulate and orbitofrontal cortex (mPFC, ACC, OFC) explains anxiety-related learning alterations. In a magnetoencephalography experiment, two groups of human participants pre-screened with high and low trait anxiety (HTA, LTA: 39) performed a probabilistic reward-based learning task. HTA undermined learning through an overestimation of volatility, leading to faster belief updating, more stochastic decisions and pronounced lose-shift tendencies. On a neural level, we observed increased gamma activity in the ACC, dmPFC, and OFC during encoding of precision-weighted prediction errors in HTA, accompanied by suppressed ACC alpha/beta activity. Our findings support the association between altered learning and belief updating in anxiety and changes in gamma and alpha/beta activity in the ACC, dmPFC, and OFC.