Goal-directed behavior under emotional distraction is preserved by enhanced task-specific activation.

Section for Experimental Psychopathology and Neuroimaging, Department of General Psychiatry, Center for Psychosocial Medicine, University of Heidelberg, Vossstr. 4, 69115 Heidelberg, Germany. .
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 5.04). 02/2012; DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsr098
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Despite the distracting effects of emotional stimuli on concurrent task performance, humans are able to uphold goal-directed behavior. Here, we investigated the hypothesis that this effect is due to the enhanced recruitment of task-specific neural resources. In a two-step functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we first localized those areas involved in mental arithmetics by contrasting arithmetic problems with a number detection task. The resulting activation maps were then used as masks in a second experiment that compared the effects of neutral and emotional distracter images on mental arithmetics. We found increased response times in the emotional distracter condition, accompanied by enhanced activation in task-specific areas, including superior parietal cortex, dorsolateral and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. This activation increase correlated with larger behavioral impairment through emotional distraction. Similar error rates in both conditions indicate that cognitive task performance is preserved through enhanced recruitment of task-specific neural resources when emotional distracter stimuli are present.

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    ABSTRACT: Cognitive control (CC) over emotional distraction is of particular importance for adaptive human behaviour and is associated with activity in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). Deficient CC, e.g. presenting as negativity bias, has been suggested to underlie many of the core symptoms of major depression (MD) and is associated with impairments of dlPFC function. Correspondingly, enhancement of dlPFC activity with anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can ameliorate these impairments in patients with MD. Here, we tested the hypothesis that a reduction of dlPFC activity by cathodal tDCS induces CC deficits, thus triggering a depression-like negativity bias in healthy subjects. Twenty-eight individuals participated in a double-blinded, balanced randomized crossover trial of cathodal (1mA, 20min) and sham tDCS applied to the left dlPFC. To assess CC we conducted a delayed response working memory (DWM) task and an arithmetic inhibition task (AIT) with pictures of varying valent content (negative, neutral, positive) during and immediately after stimulation. Cathodal tDCS led to impaired CC specifically over negative material as assessed by reduced response accuracy in the DWM and prolonged response latency in the AIT. Hence, the current study supports the notion that left dlPFC is critically involved in CC over negative material. Together with previously reported beneficial anodal effects, it indicates that the hypoactivation of left dlPFC causes deficits in CC over negative material, which is a possible aetiological mechanism of depression.
    Cortex 10/2014; · 6.04 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: ACCOUNTS OF THE EFFECT OF EMOTIONAL INFORMATION ON BEHAVIORAL RESPONSE AND CURRENT MODELS OF EMOTION REGULATION ARE BASED ON TWO OPPOSED BUT INTERACTING PROCESSES: automatic bottom-up processes (triggered by emotionally arousing stimuli) and top-down control processes (mapped to prefrontal cortical areas). Data on the existence of a third attentional network operating without recourse to limited-capacity processes but influencing response raise the issue of how it is integrated in emotion regulation. We summarize here data from attention to emotion, voluntary emotion regulation, and on the origin of biases against negative content suggesting that the ventral network is modulated by exposure to emotional stimuli when the task does not constrain the handling of emotional content. In the parietal lobes, preferential activation of ventral areas associated with "bottom-up" attention by ventral network theorists is strongest in studies of cognitive reappraisal. In conditions when no explicit instruction is given to change one's response to emotional stimuli, control of emotionally arousing stimuli is observed without concomitant activation of the dorsal attentional network, replaced by a shift of activation toward ventral areas. In contrast, in studies where emotional stimuli are placed in the role of distracter, the observed deactivation of these ventral semantic association areas is consistent with the existence of proactive control on the role emotional representations are allowed to take in generating response. It is here argued that attentional orienting mechanisms located in the ventral network constitute an intermediate kind of process, with features only partially in common with effortful and automatic processes, which plays an important role in handling emotion by conveying the influence of semantic networks, with which the ventral network is co-localized. Current neuroimaging work in emotion regulation has neglected this system by focusing on a bottom-up/top-down dichotomy of attentional control.
    Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 01/2013; 7:746. · 2.90 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: OBJECTIVE Neuropsychological deficits and emotion dysregulation are present in symptomatic and euthymic patients with bipolar disorder. However, there is little evidence on how cognitive functioning is influenced by emotion, what the neural correlates of emotional distraction effects are, and whether such deficits are a consequence or a precursor of the disorder. The authors used functional MRI (fMRI) to investigate these questions. METHOD fMRI was used first to localize the neural network specific to a certain cognitive task (mental arithmetic) and then to test the effect of emotional distractors on this network. Euthymic patients with bipolar I disorder (N=22), two populations at high risk for developing the disorder (unaffected first-degree relatives of individuals with bipolar disorder [N=17]), and healthy participants with hypomanic personality traits [N=22]) were tested, along with three age-, gender-, and education-matched healthy comparison groups (N=22, N=17, N=24, respectively). RESULTS There were no differences in performance or activation in the task network for mental arithmetic. However, while all participants exhibited slower responses when emotional distractors were present, this response slowing was greatly enlarged in bipolar patients. Similarly, task-related activation was generally increased under emotional distraction; however, bipolar patients exhibited a further increase in right parietal activation that correlated positively with the response slowing effect. CONCLUSIONS The results suggest that emotional dysregulation leads to exacerbated neuropsychological deficits in bipolar patients, as evidenced by behavioral slowing and task-related hyperactivation. The lack of such a deficit in high-risk populations suggests that it occurs only after disease onset, rather than representing a vulnerability marker.
    American Journal of Psychiatry 08/2013; · 14.72 Impact Factor


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Jun 2, 2014