Sex differences in the response to emotional distraction: An event-related fMRI investigation

Alexandru D. Iordan, Sanda Dolcos, Ekaterina Denkova, Florin Dolcos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Evidence has suggested that women have greater emotional reactivity than men. However, it is unclear whether these differences in basic emotional responses are also associated with differences in emotional distractibility, and what the neural mechanisms that implement differences in emotional distractibility between women and men are. Functional MRI recording was used in conjunction with a working memory (WM) task, with emotional distraction (angry faces) presented during the interval between the memoranda and the probes. First, we found an increased impact of emotional distraction among women in trials associated with high-confidence responses, in the context of overall similar WM performance in women and men. Second, women showed increased sensitivity to emotional distraction in brain areas associated with "hot" emotional processing, whereas men showed increased sensitivity in areas associated with "cold" executive processing, in the context of overall similar patterns of response to emotional distraction in women and men. Third, a sex-related dorsal-ventral hemispheric dissociation emerged in the lateral PFC related to coping with emotional distraction, with women showing a positive correlation with WM performance in left ventral PFC, and men showing similar effects in the right dorsal PFC. In addition to extending to men results that have previously been reported in women, by showing that both sexes engage mechanisms that are similar overall in response to emotional distraction, the present study identifies sex differences in both the response to and coping with emotional distraction. These results have implications for understanding sex differences in the susceptibility to affective disorders, in which basic emotional responses, emotional distractibility, and coping abilities are altered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)116-134
Number of pages19
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • Amygdala
  • Dorsolateral/ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC/vlPFC)
  • Emotional interference
  • Fusiform face area (FFA)
  • Social anxiety
  • Subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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