According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, lower gene activity might be the cause of the “fear center” in children that makes kids feel anxious and depressed. These genes specifically make it harder for kids to separate real threats to them from imaginary ones. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin.

The researchers of this study have discovered proof that young primates who are anxious in general have less activity in the amygdala, which is in the center of the brain. The authors of the study believe that this activity is what causes the depression and anxiety. This finding could be significant since the genes play a big part in forming the connections in the brain that are used for learning about and dealing with fear.

“Working with my close collaborator and graduate student, Drew Fox, we focused on understanding the function of genes that promote learning and plasticity in the amygdala,” says Dr. Ned H. Kalin, chair of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, who led the research. “We found reduced activity in key genes that could impair the ability to sculpt the brain, resulting in a failure to develop the capacity to discriminate between real and imaginary fears.”

Discovering this information can lead to a significant change in how young kids are treated for their anxiety and depression. Right now, many doctors are prescribing prescription medications to treat their depression. Some of those treatments include having them take SSRI antidepressants like Paxil or Effexor, which has been proven to increase their risks of suicide. Both of the drugs have been linked to violent and suicidal thoughts and behavior and birth defects (PPHN, oral lefts, spina bifida) in babies born to mothers who take the drugs while pregnant.