Impaired executive control of emotional information in social anhedonia
Laura M. Tully⁎, Sarah Hope Lincoln, Christine I. Hooker
Psychology Department, Harvard University, Massachusetts, USA
a b s t r a c ta r t i c l ei n f o
Received 15 January 2011
Received in revised form 20 August 2011
Accepted 12 December 2011
Attention network test
Test (ANT), we developed a measure of executive control of emotional information (ANT-Emotion) in which sub-
jects identify the direction of an arrow flanked by irrelevant angry or neutral faces. Subjects completed the ANT,
ANT-Emotion, and the Social Adjustment Scale, Self-Report (SAS-SR), a measure of social functioning. While there
were no group differences in the alerting, orienting, and executive control networks assessed by the ANT, high SA
individuals exhibited a specific impairment in the executive control of emotional information. High SA individuals
also reported poorer social functioning. However, executive control of emotional information did not mediate the
relationship between SA and social functioning. These findings indicate that, in high-risk populations, the impaired
ability to inhibit emotional information allows negative affective stimuli to exert inappropriate influence on cogni-
tive processes. These results are consistent with studies indicating similar findings in schizophrenia patients, sug-
gesting that impaired inhibition of negative emotion may be part of the liability for the disorder.
© 2012 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
Social anhedonia (SA), a lack of pleasure from social interactions
that is distinguishable from social anxiety (Brown et al., 2007), is
thought to be a core feature of schizophrenia that contributes to the
liability of developing the disorder, and a key factor underlying the
social difficulties seen in the illness (Meehl, 1962). SA predicts social
functioning in individuals with schizophrenia (Blanchard et al., 1998)
and high-risk populations (Cohen et al., 2006), is associated with ele-
vated symptoms (Horan et al., 2007), and predicts conversion to
schizophrenia-spectrum disorders (Kwapil, 1998). Similar to schizo-
phrenia patients, socially anhedonic individuals also exhibit deficits
in attention (Gooding et al., 2006b) and emotion processing
(Phillips and Seidman, 2008). In line with data demonstrating social
cognitive processes act as mediators between cognitive impairments
and functional outcome (Green et al., 2000) the present research ex-
amines attentional processes in relation to emotional information in
individuals high in social anhedonia. We hypothesize that attentional
deficits affect social functioning via a specific domain of social cogni-
tion, the executive control of socially relevant emotional information,
and that this relationship is part of an underlying vulnerability ob-
servable in psychosis-prone populations.
1.1. Attention & the attention network test
are well documented (Heinrichs and Zakzanis, 1998; Nuechterlein et al.,
1998) but the mechanisms by which attentional processes influence so-
cial functioning are unknown. To understand attentional mechanisms
and how they contribute to social impairments in SA a measure that
ing candidate is the Attention Network Test (ANT) (Fan et al., 2002), an
experimental measure of three proposed attention networks: alerting,
orienting and executive control (Posner and Petersen, 1990). The alert-
ing network manages the ability to achieve and maintain an alert
state, the orienting network manages the ability to select and focus
on the to-be-attended stimulus, and the executive control network
manages the ability to resolve conflict among responses and conse-
quently the regulation of cognitions and emotions (Posner et al.,
There is increasing evidence for a specific deficit in the executive
control network, as measured by the ANT, in schizophrenia (Wang
et al., 2005; Gooding et al., 2006a; Urbanek et al., 2009). However, it
is unclear whether this deficit is a consequence of schizophrenia, or
if it is part of the liability for the disorder. Although executive control
has been examined using the ANT in positive schizotypy (Wan et al.,
2006), and individuals high in physical anhedonia (Dubal et al.,
2000), to our knowledge ANT performance has yet to be examined
in SA. Moreover, little is known about the contribution of deficits in
the executive control network to social impairments in SA as execu-
tive control mechanisms have not yet been directly tied to social cog-
nition and functioning deficits. We sought to examine 1) whether
Psychiatry Research 197 (2012) 29–35
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executive control deficits are present in high SA individuals, and
2) the role of the executivecontrolnetworkinaspecificsocialcognitive
process, the executive control of emotional information.
1.2. Executive control of emotional information
Executive control of emotional information – operationalized here
as the ability to control the extent that emotion influences cognition –
is critical for successful decision making and social interactions; if an
individual is unable to inhibit irrelevant emotional information in the
social array this could adversely affectsocial interactions. In schizophre-
nia,neuroimagingstudies show dysfunctional activity in the lateral pre-
frontal cortex (Barch, 2005), a region involved in the regulation of
emotion on behavior (Ochsner and Gross, 2005). In behavioral studies,
individuals with schizophrenia show increased latencies on the Stroop
task for threat-related or paranoid words compared to depressed indi-
viduals and healthy controls (Bentall and Kaney, 1989), and are more
of neutral faces (Hooker et al., 2011). Collectively, these findings are in-
dicative of deficits in the executive control of emotional information in
schizophrenia, and that these deficits directly affect social behavior, po-
investigating whether psychosis-prone individuals also exhibit impair-
ments in the executive control of emotional information, and whether
these impairments relate to social functioning.
and Gooding, 1999) and aberrant processing of affective information
(Kerns and Berenbaum, 2000), indicating that dysregulation of inhibitory
premorbidly. However, the interplay between affective information and
executive control in SA has received limited attention in the literature. If
high SA is related to difficulties in controlling the influence of emotional
information on behavior, it may contribute to social deficits. Thus, we
were interested in whether executive control of emotional information
is impaired in socially anhedonic individuals, and whether this mediates
the relationship between SA and social functioning.
1.3. The present research
The present research examined attentional processes, specifically
the executive control of emotional information, and social functioning
sure based on the ANT: the ANT-Emotion, a flanker task with orienting
cues in which participants identify the direction of an arrow flanked by
irrelevant neutral or angry faces. SA was assessed with the Revised So-
cial Anhedonia Scale (Eckblad et al., 1982). We also administered the
ANT as a measure of pure attentional processes, and the Social Adjust-
ment Scale–Self Report (Weissman et al., 1978) as a measure of social
We directly tested the following predictions: 1) Compared to con-
trols, high SA individuals will exhibit attentional deficits on both the
ANT, specifically in executive control, and the ANT-Emotion, specifically
will report poorer social functioning compared to controls. 3) Executive
control of emotional information will mediate the relationship between
SA and social functioning.
34 high SA and 29 control participants were recruited from the Greater Boston
Area. Participants were recruited as part of a larger study (N=108) investigating
the relationship between psychosis-proneness, social cognition, and social func-
tioning in which they were screened for SA with the Revised Social Anhedonia
Scale (RSAS) (Eckblad et al., 1982), and also completed the Schizotypal Personality
Questionnaire (SPQ) (Raine, 1991). Candidate high SA participants were selected
from the larger study sample using the cut-off of 1.96 standard deviations above
the mean for their gender from normative data reported by Kwapil (1998): scores
of 16 and above for females; 20 and above for males. In order to compare high SA
individuals to individuals who are not at risk for schizophrenia, candidate control
participants were individuals who scored below 1.96 standard deviations from the
mean on the RSAS and within the 10% cutoffs of the SPQ from the normative data
reported by Raine (1991) (SPQ scores less than 8 or greater than 42). Thus, con-
trol participants were individuals with no elevated risk for schizophrenia, scoring
within the normal range of the SPQ and the RSAS. Exclusion criteria were: English
as a second language, IQ below 70, history of head trauma, neurological illness,
current or past axis I disorders, and active substance abuse within the past six
Demographic information and group differences are presented in Table 1. The
study was approved by the ethical review board at Harvard University. After study pro-
cedures were explained, participants gave written informed consent.
2.2. Materials & assessments
2.2.1. Social anhedonia
The Revised Social Anhedonia Scale (RSAS) (Eckblad et al., 1982) is a 40 item
true/false self-report scale comprising of questions measuring individuals’ de-
creased pleasure from social interactions. Example items include: “I attach very
little importance to having close friends” (keyed true) and “Just being with friends
can make me feel really good” (keyed false).
2.2.2. Psychiatric illness
Axis I disorders were assessed using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV
Axis I Disorders (First et al., 2002); clinical interviews were conducted by trained mas-
ter's level doctoral students and supervised by a licensed clinical psychologist (CH).
Reliability assessments conducted by an independent clinician on a random sample
of ten clinical interviews revealed a kappa of 0.67, indicating substantial diagnostic
agreement (Landis and Koch, 1977).
Fullscale IQscores were estimatedusingthe vocabulary andmatrix reasoning subtests
of the Weschler Abbreviated Intelligence Scale (WASI) (Wechsler, 1999).
2.2.4. Social functioning
ing: work, social and leisure activities, relationships with extended family, role as marital
partner, parental role, androle within the family unit. Each area is rated across four catego-
ries of assessment: performance at expected tasks, level of conflict with people, interper-
sonal relations, and feelings and satisfactions. Area scores are averaged together to create
one composite score of social functioning.
2.3. Tasks and stimuli
2.3.1. The ANT
The ANT (Fan et al., 2002) assesses the efficiency of the orienting, alerting, and execu-
tivecontrol attentional networks by measuring differences in reaction times to indicate the
direction of a central arrow across cue and flanker conditions. Participants identify the di-
rection (left, right) of a target arrow that appears above or below a central fixation cross.
Thearrow is preceded by an asterisk cuethat either alerts or orients participants to theup-
comingtarget. There are four cue types: nocue (neither alertingnor orienting), central cue
(on thefixation cross; alerting), double cue (two asterisks presented simultaneously above
and below fixation;alerting), or spatial cue (a single asterisk above or below fixation in the
location of the upcoming target; orienting). Immediately after the asterisk cue, the target
arrow appears and is flanked by one of three flanker types: congruent (arrows in the
same direction as the target arrow), incongruent (arrows in the opposite direction as the
target arrow) and neutral (horizontal lines). The alerting and orienting networks are
assessed via the different cue conditions, the executive control network is assessed via
are obtained via simple subtractions of reaction times between conditions: alerting scores
are calculated by subtracting reaction times in the double cue condition from reaction
times in the no cue condition; orienting scores are calculated by subtracting reaction
control scores are calculated by subtracting reaction times in the congruent flanker condi-
tion from reaction times in the incongruent flanker condition.
beginning with a fixation cross, followed by one of the four cue types presented for 100 ms,
followed by an average interval of 400 ms after which one of the three target stimuli is pre-
sented for 1700 ms or until the subject responds (congruent, incongruent, neutral). The task
was presented on an IBM ThinkPad laptop using e-prime professional version 2.0.
2.3.2. The ANT-Emotion
Using the same structure as the ANT, the ANT-Emotion is designed to assess
the orienting and executive control attentional networks in relation to emotional
as spatial cues for the upcoming target. Executive control of emotional information is
assessed by using faces (neutral, angry) as flankers of the central target arrow. Participants
L.M. Tully et al. / Psychiatry Research 197 (2012) 29–35
indicate the direction of a central arrow flanked by one of three flanker types: irrelevant
angry faces, irrelevant neutral faces, or neutral lines. The flanker conditions are preceded
sitions (central, spatial – a single cue above or below fixation orienting participants to the
location of theupcoming target).Face cues neverprecedefaceflankers:inface flankercon-
ditions the cue presented is always an asterisk; in neutral line flanker conditions the cue
presented is either an angry or neutral face (see Fig. 1a and b for task illustration).
Measures of the efficiency of each network are obtained through simple subtractions
of reaction times between conditions. Executive control of emotional information scores
are calculated by subtracting reaction times in the neutral face flanker condition from re-
are calculated by subtracting reaction times in the neutral face spatial cue condition from
the angry face spatial cue condition. Orienting to emotional information was included in
the task in order to dissociate the attentional capture of emotional information from the
lient for high SA participants we would expect faster orienting to emotional information
compared to controls; if, as predicted, high SA participants have difficulty inhibiting nega-
The face stimuli are colored photographs of unfamiliar male and female faces taken from
the NIMSTIM face set (Tottenham et al., 2009); 24 faces (12 female) were selected. In an effort
are Asian/other, and 25% are African American (retrieved August 13, 2009 from http://www.
helloboston.com/Census.Cfm). We chose to use open-mouth angry face stimuli as they are
more reliably identified as angry than the closed-mouth angry stimuli (Tottenham et al.,
than fear faces (Tottenham et al., 2009). Each face is shown in both an angry expression and a
neutralexpression, totaling 48 face stimuli.Face photographs were made uniform by centering
the face in a 1.68″×2.42″ box with a black background.
The task consists of 288 trials; 96 in each of the three cue types. Each trial begins
with a fixation cross for 400 ms, followed by one of the four cue types presented for
100 ms, followed by an interval of 400 ms after which one of the three target stimuli
(neutral line flanker, neutral face flanker, angry face flanker) is presented for
1700 ms or until the subject responds. The task was presented on an IBM ThinkPad
laptop computer using e-prime professional version 2.0.
2.4. Data analysis
Data analysis was conducted with SPSS 18.0. All variables were screened for normalcy
Outliers were replaced with the group mean accordingly. Eight scores were replaced: five
ANT scores (four high SA), and three ANT-Emotion scores (one high SA). Independent t-
tests and χ2analyses were usedtoassess group differences on demographic variables. Uni-
variate Analysis of Variance (ANOVAs) and Multivariate Analysis of Covariance (MANCO-
VAs) were used to assess group differences on the ANT and ANT-Emotion. Pearson
correlations and linear regressions were calculated to assess the proposed mediation
model between SA, executive control of emotional information, and social functioning.
3.1. Hypothesis 1: compared to controls, high SA participants will exhibit
attentional deficits on both the ANT, specifically in the executive control
network, and the ANT-Emotion, specifically in the executive control of
Attention network scores and test statistics for group differences on
the ANT are presented in Table 2. Due to group differences in IQ, IQ was
entered as a covariate of no interest in all analyses. Results showed that
there was no difference between high SA and control participants on
any of the ANT scores. Specifically, ANOVAs revealed no group differ-
ences in overall reaction times [F(1,54)=0.397, P=0.531] or accuracy
[F(1,54)=0.036, P=0.85]. MANCOVA with attention network scores
of the ANT (alerting, orienting, executive control) as dependent
variables revealed no main effect of group [F(3,52)=0.767, P=0.518]
or IQ [F(3,52)=0.563, P=0.642]. Similarly, follow-up ANOVAs
revealed no group differences on alerting [F(1,54)=2.373, P=0.129],
orienting [F(1,54)=0.42, P=0.839], or executive control network
scores [F(1,54)=0.127, P=0.723]. Given that low IQ is a characteristic
feature of schizophrenia liability (Woodberry et al., 2008), removing
varianceassociated withIQ mightbe removingmeaningfulvarianceas-
sociated with the illness-related deficit under investigation (Miller and
Chapman, 2009). Therefore, we also conducted these analyses without
IQ as a covariate; results remained the same. Thus, our hypothesis
that high SA individuals would exhibit deficits in the executive control
network for non-emotional information was not supported (see Fig. 2).
Group means and test statistics for the ANT-Emotion are pre-
sented in Table 2. IQ was entered in all analyses as a covariate of no
interest. Results showed a single group difference in executive control
of emotional information, and no group differences on any other vari-
ables. Specifically, ANOVAs revealed no group differences in overall
reaction times [F(1,59)=0.343, P=0.56], accuracy [F(1,59)=0.001,
P=0.976], or orienting to emotional information [F(1,59)=0.139,
P=0.71]. There were, however, group differences in executive con-
trol of emotional information: compared to controls, high SA partici-
pants were significantly slower to respond in the angry face flanker
condition versus the neutral face flanker condition [F(1,59)=5.478,
P=0.023] (see Fig. 3). To examine whether this effect was driven
by differences in IQ we conducted these analyses without IQ as a co-
variate. Results remained the same: compared to controls, high SA
participants showed impaired executive control of emotional infor-
mation [F(1,60)=3.971, P=0.05].
Given that the two groups not only differed on SA, but also on SPQ
scores (see Table 1), it is possible that other aspects of psychosis-
proneness contribute to this group difference in executive control of
emotional information. However, although SPQ scores did relate to SA
(r=0.76, Pb0.0001) and social impairments (r=0.52, Pb0.0001),
information (r=−0.02, P=0.89). This indicates that the group differ-
ence in executive control of emotional information is not driven by
other schizotypal traits that are measured in the SPQ.
Collectively these findings demonstrate that while high SA partici-
pants do notexhibitattentionaldeficitsinrelationtonon-emotional in-
formation, they do exhibit a specific deficit in the executive control of
emotional information. Moreover, this deficit appears to be driven by
SA, rather than psychosis-proneness more generally.
3.2. Hypothesis 2: high SA individuals will report poorer social functioning
compared to controls
Mean social functioning and group differences are displayed in
Table 1. Consistent with our hypothesis, independent t-tests revealed
controls [t(59)=4.245,Pb0.0001]. This replicatesprevious findingsthat
Demographics and sample characteristics.
Control groupHigh SA
Age: mean (S.D.), [range]
Education: mean (S.D.), [range]
WASI IQ: mean (S.D.), [range]
Social anhedonia: mean (S.D.), [range]
SPQ: mean (S.D.), [range]
Social impairment: mean (S.D.), [range]
20 F/9 M
14.86 (2.01), [12–20]
119.52 (10.77), [92–137]
6.21 (3.82), [0–14]
19.97 (9.56), [9–40]
56.30 (11.67), [36–84]
19 F/15 M
14.53 (2.16), [10–20]
111.76 (11.89), [82–132]
26.85 (6.41), [18–40]
41.06 (15.47), [11 – 70]
70.68 (14.19), [39–109]
t(61)=2.692, P=0.009, d=0.69a
t(61)=15.184, Pb0.0001, d=3.89
t(61)=6.372, P b0.0001, d=1.63
t(59)=4.245, P b0.0001, d=1.11b
aCohen's d effect size.
bTwo subjects did not complete the Social Adjustment Scale.
L.M. Tully et al. / Psychiatry Research 197 (2012) 29–35
high SA is associated with poorer social functioning (Blanchard et al.,
1998; Cohen et al., 2006).
3.3. Hypotheses 3: executive control of emotional information will mediate
the relationship between social anhedonia and social functioning
Following the steps required for determining mediation (see
Baron and Kenny, 1986), we conducted a series of correlation and
regression analyses across all 63 participants to determine if there
were significant associations between 1) SA and social functioning,
2) SA and executive control of emotional information, 3) executive
control of emotional information and social functioning, and 4) SA
and social functioning whilst controlling for executive control of emo-
tional information. All four steps must be met for a mediation model
to be supported. A variable is considered a statistical mediator if the
relationship between the independent (i.e. SA) and the dependent
Fig. 1. a: Illustration of an ANT-Emotion trial assessing orienting to emotional information. Participants see a neutral or angry face cue followed by a target arrow flanked with neutral
lines. Scores for orienting to emotional information are obtained through simple subtractions of RTs: RT angry face cue – RT neutral face cue. Lower scores indicate an orienting bias to
negative emotional faces. b: Illustration of an ANT-Emotion trial assessing executive control of emotional information. Participants see an asterisk cue followed by a target arrow flanked
by neutral or angry faces. Scores for executive control of emotional information are obtained through simple subtractions of RTs: RT angry face flankers – RT neutral face flankers. Higher
scores indicate reduced ability to inhibit negative emotional faces.
L.M. Tully et al. / Psychiatry Research 197 (2012) 29–35
(i.e. social functioning) variable is significantly reduced when the me-
diator (i.e. executive control of emotional information) is controlled
for (Baron and Kenny, 1986). Pearsoncorrelationsrevealedsocialanhe-
donia correlated significantly with social impairment (r=0.59;
impairment (r=−0.17, P=0.19). Linear regression revealed social an-
hedonia significantly predicted social functioning [F(1,59)=31.215,
Pb0.0001; R2=0.35] such that higher social anhedonia predicted great-
er social impairment, satisfying step 1 of the mediation model. However,
social anhedonia did not significantly predict executive control of emo-
tional information [F(1,60)=2.741, P=0.103; R2=0.04]. Similarly,
executive control of emotional information did not significantly predict
social functioning [F(1,58)=1.803, P=0.185; R2=0.03]. Thus, the me-
diation model was not supported. These non-significant findings could
be due to a small sample size; power analysis indicates that our sample
size has sufficient power to detect large and medium effects (0.99 and
0.70 respectively), but low power to detect small effects (0.12).
This study examined social functioning and executive control of
emotional information in individuals at risk for developing schizo-
phrenia. Attentional processes were assessed using the ANT and our
new measure of executive control of emotional information, the
ANT-Emotion. Two main findings emerged: first, while there were
no group differences in alerting, orienting, or executive control net-
works assessed by the ANT, high SA individuals did exhibit a specific
impairment in the executive control of emotional information rela-
tive to controls. Second, high SA individuals reported significantly
greater social functioning impairments relative to controls.
These findings suggest that there are specific deficits in the execu-
tive control of emotional information observable in individuals with
vulnerability factors for schizophrenia. This deficit was only apparent
in the presence of irrelevant angry faces, and not in the executive con-
detected by pure cognitive tasks, rather they only emerge when affec-
tiveand cognitive informationinteracts. Moreover, high SA participants
did not exhibit faster orientingtoemotional informationindicatingthat
their slower reaction times in the presence of angry face flankers is not
simply due to an orienting bias towards angry faces. We interpret these
findings as indicating that the impaired ability to inhibit emotional
information allows negative affective stimuli to exert inappropriate in-
fluence on cognitiveprocesses. This is consistentwithpriorstudies indi-
cating that schizophrenia patients have an impaired ability to regulate
the influence of irrelevant negative affective information on cognitive
Attention network RT scores and accuracy of high SA and control participants.
Control group High SA groupDifferences between groups
ANT: mean (S.D.)
ANT-Emotion: mean (S.D.)
Executive control of emotional information
Orienting to emotional information
F(1,59)=5.478, P=0.023, ηρ
aSix control participants did not complete the ANT.
cIQ was entered as a covariate of no interest. There was no main effect of IQ. Results remained the same in all analyses when IQ was not entered as a covariate.
dOne subject did not complete the ANT-Emotion.
2=partial eta squared effect size.
Fig. 2. There were no differences between control and high SA participants on any of
the three attentional networks of the ANT, indicating that high SA is not characterized
by attentional deficits in relation to nonemotional stimuli.
Fig. 3. High SA participants demonstrated impaired executive control of emotional
information: compared to control participants, high SA participants were significantly
slower to respond to the target in the angry face flanker condition versus the neutral
face flanker condition.
L.M. Tully et al. / Psychiatry Research 197 (2012) 29–35
processes: patients show increased latencies on the emotional Stroop
(Bentall and Kaney, 1989), and rate faces as less trustworthy following
negative affective primes (Hooker et al., 2011). Moreover, this impair-
ment may be specifically associated with SA: Suslow et al. (2003) exam-
ined the influence of subliminal affective face primes on valence
judgments of neutral Chinese characters in schizophrenia patients with
and without SA. Compared to patients without SA, high SA patients
showed persistent negative evaluative shifts, indicating that impaired
regulation of irrelevant negative affect may be characteristic of high SA.
acteristic of individuals at risk for developing schizophrenia.
Our findings also suggest that the deficit in executive control may
be specific to the inhibition of socially relevant emotional informa-
tion. Using the emotion Stroop with non-socially specific negative
words, Mohanty et al. (2008) did not find inhibitory deficits in SA.
However, our findings, and those of Suslow et al. (2003), suggest
that there is a deficit in the presence of socially relevant stimuli (i.e.
negative emotional faces). This could contribute to the social
withdrawal and dysfunction characteristic of high SA: if individuals
struggle to inhibit socially relevant negative affective information, it
follows that they would withdraw from unnecessarily unpleasant
experiences (Suslow et al., 2003). Future studies could examine this
hypothesis further by adapting the ANT-Emotion to contain both so-
cial and non-social flankers, or by using an emotional Stroop with
categories of social and non-social negative words.
Consistent with our second hypothesis, high SA related to poorer
social functioning. This replicates previous findings that high SA is as-
sociated with social impairments (Blanchard et al., 1998; Cohen et al.,
2006), providing further evidence for the presence of social deficits in
people at increased risk for schizophrenia. However,executive control
of emotional information did not mediate the relationship between SA
and social functioning. There are two possible explanations for this.
First, it could be that there is a mismatch between the specificity of
the domain measured by the ANT-Emotion and the broad assessment
of social functioning obtained by the SAS-SR. We chose the SAS-SR be-
cause it is a standard measure used in the field. However, like many so-
cial functioning assessments, it is broad in scope. Our finding suggests
that developing measures of social functioning that more accurately re-
flect the underlying social cognitive processes necessary for successful
social interactions may result in more success in revealing any underly-
ing relationship between SA, social cognitive deficits, and social impair-
ments. Second, although our sample size is appropriate to detect
mediation of large and medium effects, it is not big enough to detect
small effects. Future research should examine the relationship between
executivecontrolof emotionalinformationand socialfunctioningusing
alternate measures of social impairments in sample sizes large enough
to detect small effects.
Several limitations of the current study should be acknowledged.
First, the ANT-Emotion is a newly created task; replications in inde-
pendent samples are needed and improvements may be warranted.
Of particular interest is the effect of stimulus onset asynchrony
(SOA). Unlike the ANT, the ANT-Emotion uses a constant SOA
(400 ms). This might allow participants to predict the onset of target
stimuli, possibly masking any orienting biases that might exist in the
sample, or even reducing group differences on executive control of
emotional information. However, despite these potential improve-
ments, the task provides valid and compelling data that high SA indi-
viduals have impaired executive control of emotional information.
The ANT-Emotion is based on the ANT – a well-validated and reliable
measure of attention networks, of which the executive control piece
is based on another well-validated task – the Eriksen flanker
(Eriksen and Eriksen, 1974). Furthermore, the interference effect of
irrelevant affective information has been established in other tasks
such as the emotional Stroop, therefore it is unlikely that our findings
are a consequence of an invalid task. A second limitation is that the
ANT-Emotion currently only uses angry faces, hence it is unclear if
our findings would generalize to other facial expressions, both nega-
tive and positive. In light of the “anhedonia paradox” (Horan et al.,
2008), which suggests that the anticipation of reward, not consum-
mation, is the primary deficit in schizophrenia, the relationship be-
tween SA and the regulation of positive emotional information is of
particular interest. Our findings indicate that high SA is associated
with difficulties regulating negative affective information and could
suggest a complementary deficit in the facilitation of positive affec-
tive information, thought to underlie the observed deficit in anticipa-
tory pleasure in anhedonia (Pizzagalli, 2010). Future studies could
examine both inhibitory and facilitatory mechanisms in the context of
emotional information and SA to delineate this further. Finally, there
were group differences on the SPQ. Although these differences are
expected given theclose relationship between positive andnegative as-
have no impact on the group differences in executive control of emo-
In summary, the current study demonstrates a deficit in the execu-
tive control of socially relevant emotional information in socially anhe-
donic individuals. Additionally, SA predicted poorer social functioning,
of psychosis-prone populations (Meehl, 1962). These findings have im-
mation in social contexts. Further research is needed to identify the
cial dysfunction characteristic of schizophrenia.
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