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: 7.37). 02/2012; 8(3). DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsr098
Source: PubMed


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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Available from: Philipp Kanske
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    • ") and behavioral impairments relate to activation increase (Kanske et al., 2013a; Wessa et al., 2013 "
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    ABSTRACT: Successful social interactions require both affect sharing (empathy) and understanding others' mental states (Theory of Mind, ToM). As these two functions have mostly been investigated in isolation, the specificity of the underlying neural networks and the relation of these networks to the respective behavioral indices could not be tested. Here, we present a novel fMRI paradigm (EmpaToM) that independently manipulates both empathy and ToM. Experiments 1a/b (N=90) validated the task with established empathy and ToM paradigms on a behavioral and neural level. Experiment 2 (N=178) employed the EmpaToM and revealed clearly separable neural networks including anterior insula for empathy and ventral temporoparietal junction for ToM. These distinct networks could be replicated in task-free resting state functional connectivity. Importantly, brain activity in these two networks specifically predicted the respective behavioral indices, that is, inter-individual differences in ToM related brain activity predicted inter-individual differences in ToM performance, but not empathic responding, and vice versa. Taken together, the validated EmpaToM allows separation of affective and cognitive routes to understanding others. It may thus benefit future clinical, developmental, and intervention studies on identifying selective impairments and improvement in specific components of social cognition. Copyright © 2015. Published by Elsevier Inc.
    Full-text · Article · Aug 2015 · NeuroImage
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    • "The second task we used to assess CC over emotional material was the AIT that was developed on the basis of a task used in former studies (Kanske, Heissler, Sch€ onfelder, Bongers, & Wessa, 2011; Van Dillen, Heslenfeld, & Koole, 2009; Wessa et al., 2013). Again, the negative, neutral, and positive pictures included in the task were taken from the Emo-Pics (Wessa et al., 2010), were selected based on normative values, and were counterbalanced regarding their valence and arousal scores. "
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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.
    Full-text · Article · Oct 2014 · Cortex
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    • "To be specific, in the PTSD group, enhanced activity in the ventral emotion-processing regions (the amygdala, ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, and fusiform gyrus) was associated with trauma distractors while activity in the dorsal executive regions (the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and lateral parietal cortex) was associated with working memory, and attention was disrupted by the distractors independent of their trauma content (Morey et al., 2009). However, some other studies detected enhanced activation in the dorsal executive regions when emotional stimuli were presented as distractors before or during the task, potentially indicating compensatory activation to preserve goal-directed behavior (Wessa et al., 2012; Blair et al., 2008; Hart et al., 2010; Pereira et al., 2010). Moreover, the functional neuroimaging studies of working memory have supported that the inferior frontal cortex plays a role in inhibitory processes (D′Esposito et al., 1999; Jha et al., 2004; Dolcos et al., 2006). "

    Full-text · Dataset · Jan 2014
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