Emotional Priming Effects during Stroop Task Performance

UNC Neurodevelopmental Disorders Research Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.
NeuroImage (Impact Factor: 6.36). 10/2009; 49(3):2662-70. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.10.076
Source: PubMed


The ability to make decisions within an emotional context requires a balance between two functionally integrated neural systems that primarily support executive control and affective processing. Several studies have demonstrated effects of emotional interference presented during an ongoing cognitive task, but it is unclear how activating the emotional circuitry prior to a cognitive task may enhance or disrupt the executive system. In this study we used fMRI to examine the effects of emotional priming on executive processing during a number Stroop task. Our results indicated that during trials with less executive requirements, there was a greater aversive emotional attenuation effect in a network of regions including the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC), insula and cingulate gyrus. This attenuation effect was counteracted during trials with increased executive demand, suggesting that while pre-activation of the emotional system may lead to an automatic attenuation of activity in multiple regions, requirements for executive function may override the aversive emotional attenuation effect. Furthermore, this override effect was found to be associated with faster reaction times during executive processing. These findings demonstrate that activity in the vlPFC, cingulate and insula is dynamically adjusted in order to optimize performance, and illustrate the importance of the timing of each system's engagement in determining how competing cognitive and emotional information is processed.

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    • "This might be tried, to see whether upon such distraction, the patients start showing the natural interference related slowdown for the incongruent condition. Another test could be changing the design of the Word-Face Stroop task to include emotional primes before each trial (Hart et al., 2010). This way, it may be possible to identify facilitation effects the patients naturally employ. "
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    • "Interestingly, Pessoa (2009) claimed that not only different cognitive processes share and compete for the same restricted resource capacities, but that cognitive and affective processes do so as well. Indeed, it has been shown that performance in incongruent trials decreased when preceded by an affective task-irrelevant picture (Hart et al., 2010), suggesting that the processing of the affective stimulus consumed resources that would otherwise have benefited conflict resolution. "
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