A functional MRI (fMRI) brain scan could be used to predict if children with paediatric anxiety disorder will respond to cognitive behavioural therapy.

Neuroscientists at Georgetown University Medical Center in the US enrolled 23 children aged eight to 16 with paediatric anxiety disorder, and showed them happy and fearful faces during an fMRI scan.

The researchers used fMRI to record the children’s reactions by studying the amygdale, a brain structure which is considered to represent the emotion of fear.

They found that the patients who expressed fear when looking at happy faces had the least success during an eight-week course of cognitive behavioural therapy, while those who expressed fear while looking at fearful faces benefited from the treatment.

According to the scientists, fMRI can be used to select patients who would benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy alone, and those patients who would require other interventions, such as medication.