Chiew KS, Braver TS. Neural circuitry of emotional and cognitive conflict revealed through facial expressions. PLoS One 6: e17635

Department of Psychology, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America.
PLoS ONE (Impact Factor: 3.23). 03/2011; 6(3):e17635. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017635
Source: PubMed


Neural systems underlying conflict processing have been well studied in the cognitive realm, but the extent to which these overlap with those underlying emotional conflict processing remains unclear. A novel adaptation of the AX Continuous Performance Task (AX-CPT), a stimulus-response incompatibility paradigm, was examined that permits close comparison of emotional and cognitive conflict conditions, through the use of affectively-valenced facial expressions as the response modality.
Brain activity was monitored with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during performance of the emotional AX-CPT. Emotional conflict was manipulated on a trial-by-trial basis, by requiring contextually pre-cued facial expressions to emotional probe stimuli (IAPS images) that were either affectively compatible (low-conflict) or incompatible (high-conflict). The emotion condition was contrasted against a matched cognitive condition that was identical in all respects, except that probe stimuli were emotionally neutral. Components of the brain cognitive control network, including dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), showed conflict-related activation increases in both conditions, but with higher activity during emotion conditions. In contrast, emotion conflict effects were not found in regions associated with affective processing, such as rostral ACC.
These activation patterns provide evidence for a domain-general neural system that is active for both emotional and cognitive conflict processing. In line with previous behavioural evidence, greatest activity in these brain regions occurred when both emotional and cognitive influences additively combined to produce increased interference.

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    • "The anterior cingulate cortex has an evaluative function that monitors for current control demands and allows for appropriate , context-sensitive control adjustments (Botvinick et al., 2004). So far, studies of healthy people have found evidence for activation of both dorsolateral prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex when processing conflicting emotion cues (Haas et al., 2006; Wittfoth et al., 2010; Zaki et al., 2010; Chiew and Braver, 2011; Kanske and Kotz, 2011a, b). "
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    • "Results from research on emotion regulation [13] and hysterical conversion disorder [14] point to the role of cortical limbic structures such as medial prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) in the unconscious modulation of activity in subcortical structures. The ACC is, among other functions, widely known for its pivotal role in the detection and processing of conflicts, including those involving emotional [15]–[19] and autobiographical material [20], [21]. These studies suggest that automatic regulatory processes rely on different brain structures than voluntary suppression [12], [22]. "
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    • "Furthermore, a region in the right vlPFC selectively responded to human conflict vs no-conflict as a function of the quality of social relationship with the co-player and the individual propensity to resource sharing. So far, most of the neuroscience research on conflict monitoring has focused on cognitive/intrapersonal levels of response or processing competition, with strong evidence that a dedicated network encompassing dMFC, dlPFC and insula is crucially implicated in the monitoring of cognitive and affective conflicts (Botvinick et al., 2001; Ochsner et al., 2009; Chiew and Braver, 2011). Our current findings extend this literature by showing that the dMFC is also implicated in the detection of interpersonal conflicts due to competition for common gains, which require a resolution between self-interest and social motives. "
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    ABSTRACT: Little is known about brain mechanisms recruited during the monitoring and appraisal of social conflicts - for instance when individuals compete with each other for the same resources. We designed a novel experimental task inducing resource conflicts between two individuals. In an event-related fMRI design, participants played with another human participant or against a computer, who across trials chose either different (no conflict) or the same tokens (conflict trials) in order to obtain monetary gains. In conflict trials, the participants could decide whether they would share the token, and the resulting gain, with the other person or instead keep all points for themselves. Behaviorally, participants shared much more often when playing with a human partner than with a computer. FMRI results demonstrated that the dorsal mediofrontal cortex was selectively activated during human conflicts. This region might play a key role in detecting situations in which self- and social interest are incompatible and require behavioral adjustment. In addition, we found a conflict-related response in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex that correlated with measures of social relationship and individual sharing behavior. Taken together, these findings reveal a key role of these prefrontal areas for the appraisal and resolution of interpersonal resource conflicts.
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