Brain Activity and Network Interactions in the Impact of Internal Emotional Distraction

A. D. Iordan, S. Dolcos, F. Dolcos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Emotional distraction may come from the external world and from our mind, as internal distraction. Although external emotional distraction has been extensively investigated, less is known about the mechanisms associated with the impact of internal emotional distraction on cognitive performance, and those involved in coping with such distraction. These issues were investigated using a working memory task with emotional distraction, where recollected unpleasant autobiographical memories served as internal emotional distraction. Emotion regulation was manipulated by instructing participants to focus their attention either on or away from the emotional aspects of their memories. Behaviorally, focusing away from emotion was associated with better working memory performance than focusing on the recollected emotions. Functional MRI data showed reduced response in brain regions associated with the salience network, coupled with greater recruitment of executive prefrontal and memory-related temporoparietal regions, and with increased frontoparietal connectivity, when subjects focused on nonemotional contextual details of their memories. Finally, temporal dissociations were also identified between regions involved in self-referential (showing faster responses) versus context-related processing (showing delayed responses). These findings demonstrate that focused attention is an effective regulation strategy in coping with internal distraction, and are relevant for understanding clinical conditions where coping with distressing memories is dysfunctional.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2607-2623
Number of pages17
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019


  • dorsolateral prefrontal cortex/dlPFC
  • emotion regulation
  • emotional interference
  • frontoparietal control network/ FPCN
  • rumination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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