Resolving Emotional Conflict: A Role for the Rostral Anterior Cingulate Cortex in Modulating Activity in the Amygdala

Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, Columbia University Medical Center, Neurological Institute Box 108, 710 West 168th Street, New York, New York 10032, USA.
Neuron (Impact Factor: 15.05). 10/2006; 51(6):871-82. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2006.07.029
Source: PubMed


Effective mental functioning requires that cognition be protected from emotional conflict due to interference by task-irrelevant emotionally salient stimuli. The neural mechanisms by which the brain detects and resolves emotional conflict are still largely unknown, however. Drawing on the classic Stroop conflict task, we developed a protocol that allowed us to dissociate the generation and monitoring of emotional conflict from its resolution. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we find that activity in the amygdala and dorsomedial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices reflects the amount of emotional conflict. By contrast, the resolution of emotional conflict is associated with activation of the rostral anterior cingulate cortex. Activation of the rostral cingulate is predicted by the amount of previous-trial conflict-related neural activity and is accompanied by a simultaneous and correlated reduction of amygdalar activity. These data suggest that emotional conflict is resolved through top-down inhibition of amygdalar activity by the rostral cingulate cortex.

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Available from: Tobias Egner
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    • "The proposition that increased attentional control (via WM training) can impact positively on anxiety symptoms is consistent with a broader literature that has highlighted the role of the PFC in emotional regulation (e.g., Davidson et al., 2000). It also links to related studies that have found a negative association between PFC activation with brain regions linked to fearful responding, including the amygdala (Etkin et al., 2006; Hare et al., 2008). For example, research has demonstrated that adults who report elevated anxiety show reduced ability to utilize attentional processes associated with the PFC (including the Anterior Cingulate Cortex and the lateral PFC) and where this pattern of activation is argued to maintain threat biases in anxiety (Öhman, 2005; reviews by Bishop, 2007). "
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    ABSTRACT: Research indicates that cognitive processes linked to the detection of threat stimuli are associated with poor attentional control, placing children and adolescents at increased risk for the development of anxious affect. The current study aimed to provide preliminary data to assess whether an intervention designed to improve attentional control (via working memory; WM) would lead to better performance in tests of WM and would be associated with positive changes in symptoms of trait and test anxiety, increased inhibitory control and reduced attention to threat. Forty adolescents aged 11–14 years who reported elevated anxiety and low attentional control were randomly allocated to a WM training or an active cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) control group. Post intervention, WM training was associated with greater improvements (versus. CBT) in trained WM tasks. Both groups, however, reported fewer anxiety symptoms, demonstrated increased inhibitory control and a reduction in attentional biases to threat post intervention and these results were maintained at follow up. The study provides indicative evidence which suggests that WM training has similar benefits to a more traditional CBT intervention on reduced anxiety and attentional biases for threat. Future research should aim to replicate the findings in a large sample size and explore the broader impact of training on day-to-day functioning. In addition, further research is needed to identify which participants benefit most from different interventions (using baseline characteristics) on treatment compliance and outcome.
    Preview · Article · Feb 2016 · Frontiers in Psychology
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    • "Another area that has been implicated is the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which has been associated with emotion-cognition integration. The dorsal ACC (midportion) is engaged mainly in cognitive conflict resolution, while more rostral ACC has a role in emotional conflict resolution333435. There is evidence that performing an attentional task while being exposed to an emotional signal engages rostral ACC, superior parietal areas, and the lateral prefrontal cortex363738. "
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    ABSTRACT: In mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a risk state for Alzheimer’s disease, patients have objective cognitive deficits with relatively preserved functioning. fMRI studies have identified anomalies during working memory (WM) processing in individuals with MCI. The effect of task-irrelevant emotional face distractor on WM processing in MCI remains unclear. We aim to explore the impact of fearful-face task-irrelevant distractor on WM processing in MCI using fMRI. Hypothesis . Compared to healthy controls (HC), MCI patients will show significantly higher BOLD signal in a priori identified regions of interest (ROIs) during a WM task with a task-irrelevant emotional face distractor. Methods . 9 right-handed female participants with MCI and 12 matched HC performed a WM task with standardized task-irrelevant fearful versus neutral face distractors randomized and counterbalanced across WM trials. MRI images were acquired during the WM task and BOLD signal was analyzed using statistical parametric mapping (SPM) to identify signal patterns during the task response phase. Results . Task-irrelevant fearful-face distractor resulted in higher activation in the amygdala, anterior cingulate, and frontal areas, in MCI participants compared to HC. Conclusions . This exploratory study suggests altered WM processing as a result of fearful-face distractor in MCI.
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2016 · Behavioural neurology
    • "For instance, drawing on executive control frameworks that distinguish between the detection and the resolution of competing stimulus representations, action tendencies, or response rules (Botvinick, Braver, Barch, Carter, & Cohen, 2001), some recent work suggests that conflict resolution processes are modular and distinct for emotional and nonemotional sources of conflict (Egner, 2008). Evidence from neuroimaging investigations (Egner et al., 2008; Etkin et al., 2006), research involving lesion patients (Maier & di Pellegrino, 2012), and behavioral investigations (Kunde, Augst, & Kleinsorge, 2012; Soutschek & Schubert, 2013) support this potential modularity. "
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    ABSTRACT: Affective stimuli often gain privileged access to neural processing resources, making them both more likely to capture attention and more difficult to filter out if they are irrelevant to the current goals. In addition to emotional stimuli exerting a strong exogenous (‘bottom-up’) pull on attention, endogenous (‘top-down’) attentional settings can also shape affective responding to stimuli and modulate their capacity to influence perception, decision making, and response selection. This article examines both of these aspects of the relationship between emotion and attention and highlights the neural systems supporting their interaction.
    No preview · Chapter · Dec 2015
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