The impact of anxiety-inducing distraction on cognitive performance: A combined brain imaging and personality investigation

Ekaterina Denkova, Gloria Wong, Sanda Dolcos, Keen Sung, Lihong Wang, Nicholas Coupland, Florin Dolcos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Previous investigations revealed that the impact of task-irrelevant emotional distraction on ongoing goaloriented cognitive processing is linked to opposite patterns of activation in emotional and perceptual vs. cognitive control/ executive brain regions. However, little is known about the role of individual variations in these responses. The present study investigated the effect of trait anxiety on the neural responses mediating the impact of transient anxiety-inducing task-irrelevant distraction on cognitive performance, and on the neural correlates of coping with such distraction. We investigated whether activity in the brain regions sensitive to emotional distraction would show dissociable patterns of covariation with measures indexing individual variations in trait anxiety and cognitive performance. Methodology/Principal Findings: Event-related fMRI data, recorded while healthy female participants performed a delayedresponse working memory (WM) task with distraction, were investigated in conjunction with behavioural measures that assessed individual variations in both trait anxiety and WM performance. Consistent with increased sensitivity to emotional cues in high anxiety, specific perceptual areas (fusiform gyrus - FG) exhibited increased activity that was positively correlated with trait anxiety and negatively correlated with WM performance, whereas specific executive regions (right lateral prefrontal cortex - PFC) exhibited decreased activity that was negatively correlated with trait anxiety. The study also identified a role of the medial and left lateral PFC in coping with distraction, as opposed to reflecting a detrimental impact of emotional distraction. Conclusions: These findings provide initial evidence concerning the neural mechanisms sensitive to individual variations in trait anxiety and WM performance, which dissociate the detrimental impact of emotion distraction and the engagement of mechanisms to cope with distracting emotions. Our study sheds light on the neural correlates of emotion-cognition interactions in normal behaviour, which has implications for understanding factors that may influence susceptibility to affective disorders, in general, and to anxiety disorders, in particular.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere14150
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'The impact of anxiety-inducing distraction on cognitive performance: A combined brain imaging and personality investigation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this