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The effect of parietal Glutamate/GABA balance on test anxiety levels in early childhood in a cross-sectional and longitudinal study

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posted on 07.01.2022, 15:45 authored by George Zacharopoulos, Francesco SellaFrancesco Sella, Kathrin Cohen Kadosh, Uzay Emir, Roi Cohen Kadosh
Abstract The increased prevalence of test anxiety in our competitive society makes it a health issue of public concern. However, its neurobiological basis, especially during the years of formal education, is currently scant. Previous research has highlighted the association between neural excitation/inhibition balance and psychopathology and disease. We examined whether the glutamate/GABA profile tracks test anxiety levels in development, using a cross-sectional and longitudinal design in a cohort spanning from early childhood to early adulthood (N = 289), reassessed approximately 21 months later (N = 194). We used magnetic resonance spectroscopy to noninvasively quantify glutamate and gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels in the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) and the middle frontal gyrus. We show that the glutamate/GABA balance within the IPS relates to current individual variation in test anxiety levels and predict future test anxiety approximately 21 months later. Critically, this relationship was observed during early childhood but not during the later developmental stages. Our results extend the use of the excitation/inhibition balance framework to characterize the psychopathology mechanisms of test anxiety, an underexplored yet widespread and debilitating condition that can impact early child development. Our findings provide a better understanding of the neurotransmitter basis underlying the emergence of anxiety disorders during development.


The Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging is supported by core funding from the Wellcome Trust (203139/Z/16/Z)

European Research Council (Learning & Achievement 338065)



  • Science


  • Mathematics Education Centre

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Cerebral Cortex


Oxford University Press (OUP)


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This is an Open Access Article. It is published by OUP under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported Licence (CC BY). Full details of this licence are available at:

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Dr Francesco Sella. Deposit date: 4 January 2022