Threat effects on attention networks in individuals with a history of externalizing behaviors

Konrad Bresin, Yara Mekawi, Julia B. McDonald, Melanie L. Bozzay, Wendy Heller, Edelyn Verona

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research identifying the biobehavioral processes that link threat exposure to cognitive alterations can inform treatments designed to reduce perpetration of stress-induced aggression. The present study attempted to specify the effects of relatively predictable versus unpredictable threat on two attention networks, attentional alerting and executive control. In a sample of adults (n = 74, 35 % identifying as women, Mage = 32.85) with high rates of externalizing behaviors (e.g., substance use, criminal/legal system involvement, aggressivity), we measured event-related brain activity during an attention network test that manipulated cognitive systems activation under relatively unpredictable and predictable threat conditions. Results showed that threat exposure alters attentional alerting and executive control. The predictable threat condition, relative to unpredictable threat, increased visual alerting (N1 amplitude to alert vs. no alert cue conditions) and decreased attention to the task (P3 amplitude to subsequent task-relevant flankers, but these effects did not survive adjusting for multiple tests. In contrast, overall threat and unpredictable threat conditions were associated with faster response time to alert cue (versus no cue) and poorer conflict processing, operationalized as flanker N2 reductions and slower response time to incongruent (versus congruent) flanker trials. These results expand what is known about threat-related modulation of cognition in a sample of individuals with histories of externalizing behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-18
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • Attentional alerting
  • ERP
  • Executive control
  • Predictability
  • Threat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)


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