Stress shifts brain activation towards ventral ‘affective’ areas during emotional distraction

Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition, Postzone C2-S, PO Box 9600, 2300 RC Leiden, The Netherlands.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 7.37). 04/2011; 7(4):403-12. DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsr024
Source: PubMed


Acute stress has been shown to impair working memory (WM), and to decrease prefrontal activation during WM in healthy humans. Stress also enhances amygdala responses towards emotional stimuli. Stress might thus be specifically detrimental to WM when one is distracted by emotional stimuli. Usually, emotional stimuli presented as distracters in a WM task slow down performance, while evoking more activation in ventral 'affective' brain areas, and a relative deactivation in dorsal 'executive' areas. We hypothesized that after acute social stress, this reciprocal dorsal-ventral pattern would be shifted towards greater increase of ventral 'affective' activation during emotional distraction, while impairing WM performance. To investigate this, 34 healthy men, randomly assigned to a social stress or control condition, performed a Sternberg WM task with emotional and neutral distracters inside an MRI scanner. Results showed that WM performance after stress tended to be slower during emotional distraction. Brain activations during emotional distraction was enhanced in ventral affective areas, while dorsal executive areas tended to show less deactivation after stress. These results suggest that acute stress shifts priority towards processing of emotionally significant stimuli, at the cost of WM performance.

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Available from: Philip Spinhoven, Oct 04, 2015
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    • "The missing association between the increase in negative affect and the affective empathy ratings is in further support of this conclusion. Previous studies reported an enhanced negativity bias (attentional bias toward threatening or aversive stimuli) in stressed participants (Oei et al., 2012; Mogg et al., 1990). As mentioned previously, our current empathy study failed to find valence-specific effects in the aftermath of acute psychosocial stress. "
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    ABSTRACT: Empathy is a core prerequisite for human social behavior. Relatively, little is known about how empathy is influenced by social stress and its associated neuroendocrine alterations. The current study was designed to test the impact of acute stress on emotional and cognitive empathy. Healthy male participants were exposed to a psychosocial laboratory stressor (trier social stress test, (TSST)) or a well-matched control condition (Placebo-TSST). Afterwards they participated in an empathy test measuring emotional and cognitive empathy (multifaceted empathy test, (MET)). Stress exposure caused an increase in negative affect, a rise in salivary alpha amylase and a rise in cortisol. Participants exposed to stress reported more emotional empathy in response to pictures displaying both positive and negative emotional social scenes. Cognitive empathy (emotion recognition) in contrast did not differ between the stress and the control group. The current findings provide initial evidence for enhanced emotional empathy after acute psychosocial stress.
    Stress (Amsterdam, Netherlands) 09/2015; DOI:10.3109/10253890.2015.1078787 · 2.72 Impact Factor
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    • "Follow-up investigations (Denkova et al., 2010; Dolcos et al., 2008; Dolcos, Miller, Kragel, Jha, & McCarthy, 2007; Iordan, Dolcos, Denkova, et al., 2013) provided additional evidence that these patterns of neural activity are specific to emotional distraction, and further explored the specificity of this response to different types of distracters (reviewed in Iordan, Dolcos, & Dolcos, 2013). In addition, other investigations using similar (Anticevic et al., 2010; Diaz et al., 2011; Oei et al., 2012) or derived different tasks (Mitchell et al., 2008; Wang, McCarthy, Song, & Labar, 2005; Yamasaki, LaBar, & McCarthy, 2002) in healthy participants, and evidence from clinical research (Anticevic, Repovs, Corlett, & Barch, 2011; Morey et al., 2009) also support this ventro-dorsal dissociation in response to emotional distraction, hence highlighting the replicability and generalizability of this dissociation (Iordan et al, 2013). An important factor influencing the impairing effect of emotion is the capacity to engage coping mechanisms in order to resist emotional distraction. "
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    ABSTRACT: Emotions can have both enhancing and impairing effects on various cognitive processes, from lower (e.g., perceptual) to higher level (e.g., mnemonic and executive) processes. The present article discusses emerging brain imaging evidence linking these opposing effects of emotion, which points to overlapping and dissociable neural systems involving both bottom-up and top-down mechanisms. The link between the enhancing and impairing effects is also discussed in a clinical context, with a focus on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), where these opposing effects tend to co-occur, are exacerbated, and are detrimental. Overall, the present review highlights the need to consider together enhancing and impairing effects of emotion on cognition in studies investigating emotion–cognition interactions.
    Emotion Review 10/2014; 6(4):362-375. DOI:10.1177/1754073914536449 · 2.90 Impact Factor
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    • "As such the lack of modulation in the P3 suggests that these processes remain unaffected by psychological stress in this paradigm. What seems to be affected by stress, and also corroborates the interpretation by Steinhauser et al. (2007), are response selection processes (see also Oei et al., 2012). The fronto-central N2 showed SCD interval dependent modulations of stress. "
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    ABSTRACT: Stress has been shown to modulate a number of cognitive processes including action control. These functions are important in daily life and are mediated by various cognitive subprocesses. However, it is unknown if stress affects the whole processing cascade, or exerts specific effects on a restricted subset of processes involved in the chaining of actions. We examine the effects of stress on action selection processes in a stop-change paradigm and apply event-related potentials (ERPs) combined with source localization analysis to examine potentially restricted effects of stress on subprocesses mediating action cascading. The results show that attentional selection processes, as well as processes related to allocation of processing resources were not affected by stress. Stress only seems to affect response selection functions during action cascading and leads to slowing of responses when two actions are executed in succession. These changes are related to the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Changes in response selection were predictable on the basis of individual salivary cortisol levels. The results show that stress does not affect the whole processing cascade involved in the cascading of different actions, but seems to exert circumscribed effects on response selection processes which have previously been shown to depend on dopaminergic neural transmission.
    Psychoneuroendocrinology 04/2014; 42:178–187. DOI:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.01.022 · 4.94 Impact Factor
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