Anxiety Moderates the Interplay Between Cognitive and Affective Processing

Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706-1696, USA.
Psychological Science (Impact Factor: 4.43). 09/2007; 18(8):699-705. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01963.x
Source: PubMed


Evidence suggests that focus of attention and cognitive load may each affect emotional processing and that individual differences in anxiety moderate such effects. We examined (a) fear-potentiated startle (FPS) under threat-focused (TF), low-load/alternative-set (LL/AS), and high-load/alternative-set (HL/AS) conditions and (b) the moderating effect of trait anxiety on FPS across these conditions. As predicted, redirecting attentional focus away from threat cues and increasing cognitive load reduced FPS. However, the moderating effects of anxiety were specific to the LL/AS condition. Whereas FPS was comparable for high-anxiety and low-anxiety subjects in the TF and HL/AS conditions, FPS was significantly greater for high-anxiety than for low-anxiety subjects in the LL/AS condition. These results suggest that affective processing requires attentional resources and that exaggerated threat processing in anxious individuals relates to direction of attention rather than emotional reactivity per se.

Download full-text


Available from: Joseph P Newman
  • Source
    • "For the former, evidence has been inconsistent. Studies examining fear-potentiated startle reflex have suggested that enhanced distraction in anxiety is reduced under cognitive load (Dvorak-Bertsch et al., 2007; Vytal et al., 2012), investigations examining the late positive potential (LPP; associated with emotional arousal) have implied smaller reductions under load in anxious individuals (MacNamara et al., 2011), and studies measuring distraction by emotional faces have found increased vigilance in anxiety under load (Ladouceur et al., 2009; Judah et al., 2013). However, these effects may be confounded by the influence of cognitive load on emotion processing in general. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Trait anxiety is associated with deficits in attentional control, particularly in the ability to inhibit prepotent responses. Here, we investigated this effect while varying the level of cognitive load in a modified antisaccade task that employed emotional facial expressions (neutral, happy, and angry) as targets. Load was manipulated using a secondary auditory task requiring recognition of tones (low load), or recognition of specific tone pitch (high load). Results showed that load increased antisaccade latencies on trials where gaze toward face stimuli should be inhibited. This effect was exacerbated for high anxious individuals. Emotional expression also modulated task performance on antisaccade trials for both high and low anxious participants under low cognitive load, but did not influence performance under high load. Collectively, results (1) suggest that individuals reporting high levels of anxiety are particularly vulnerable to the effects of cognitive load on inhibition, and (2) support recent evidence that loading cognitive processes can reduce emotional influences on attention and cognition.
    Full-text · Article · May 2013 · Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
  • Source
    • "In addition, the allocation of attention to salient emotion cues may impair other executive functions, including inhibition, shifting, updating, and control (Deveney & Pizzagalli, 2008; Ellis & Ashbrook, 1988; Keil, Bradley, Junghöfer, Russmann, Lowenthal & Lang, 2007; Pessoa, 2009). That is, a pervasive threat bias of this type could undermine a person's capacity to maintain cognitive control when one's bias to process emotion distractors competes with an Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci experimenter's instructions to focus on a competing set of stimuli (e.g., Bishop, Duncan, Brett, & Lawrence, 2004; Dvorak-Bertsch et al., 2007). Similarly, such a bias may also work against reorienting attention away from salient threat stimuli, as was reported by Fox and colleagues (Fox et al., 2001, 2002). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Behaviorally, psychopathy and anxiety display opposite patterns of threat sensitivity and response inhibition. However, it is unclear whether this is due to shared or to separate underlying processes. To address this question, we evaluated whether the threat sensitivity of psychopathic and anxious offenders relates to similar or different components of Gray and McNaughton's (2000) Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory using a sample of 87 prisoners and a task that crossed threat onset with attentional focus. Psychopathy was associated with significantly weaker fear-potentiated startle (FPS) under conditions that presented threat cues after alternative, goal-directed cues. Conversely, anxiety was associated with significantly stronger FPS when threat appeared first and was the focus of attention. Furthermore, these differences were statistically independent. The results suggest that the abnormal sensitivity to threat cues associated with psychopathy and anxiety relate to different underlying processes and have implications for understanding the relationship between low- and high-anxious psychopathy.
    Full-text · Article · May 2011 · Cognitive Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: This work was conducted in an effort to better understand the role that activational mechanisms in memory play in the etiology and maintenance of anxiety disorders. The affect of word stimuli characteristics, such as affective valence and semantic association with worry, on the association between inhibition and trait worry was investigated under different types of induced thought. Previous research has demonstrated that worry is associated with negative affect, and that worry may be semantically organized in memory. Based on these findings, it was hypothesized that words would be differentially inhibited in association with trait worry when worry was induced compared to neutral thought. Stimuli characteristics including the positive or negative affective valence of words, and their semantic association with common domains of worry were expected to moderate the relationship between inhibition and trait worry. In order to investigate these hypotheses, 86 undergraduate students from the University of Texas at Austin completed a series of memory tasks designed to measure inhibition for either negative or positive words, both associated and unassociated with worry. They underwent either idiopathic worry or neutral thought induction prior to completing each memory task, and completed questionnaires assessing trait worry and thought suppression. The findings provide partial support for the hypotheses. Higher levels of trait worry were associated with less inhibition of negative words, but more inhibition of positive words semantically associated with worry. Contrary to predictions, differential induction of worry did not affect the relationship between inhibition and trait worry. The research and clinical implications of these findings are discussed.
    Full-text · Article ·
Show more