Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Neural Correlates of Inefficient Filtering of Emotionally Neutral Distractors from Working Memory in Trait Anxiety

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Neural Correlates of Inefficient Filtering of Emotionally Neutral Distractors from Working Memory in Trait Anxiety

Article excerpt

Abstract Research has indicated that highly trait-anxious (HTA) individuals exhibit a specific deficit in filtering threat-related distractors from visual-spatial working memory (WM). Prior demonstrations of impaired inhibition control in HTA individuals have mainly focused on tasks that required the inhibition of prepotent response tendencies. Studies on the suppression of emotionally neutral distractors from WM in trait anxiety have also been minimal. In this article, we present a study on the manifestation of general inefficient filtering of neutral distractors during visual-spatial WM maintenance stages in HTA individuals. Female participants performed a visual-spatial WM task while event-related potentials were recorded. They were made to remember the orientations of red rectangles within half of the screen and to ignore all salient green rectangles. As predicted, no significant main effect of group and no interaction between group and condition were found in the N2pc component, suggesting that group differences did not manifest in the initial process of object individuation. During the subsequent WM maintenance phase, HTA individuals were highly inefficient at filtering the irrelevant items from WM, as reflected not only by parallel late contralateral delay activity (CDA; 450 to 900 ms) amplitudes for the distractor condition and the four red items, but also by a smaller filtering efficiency score in the HTA group than in the low-trait-anxiety group. Extending previous studies, our findings verify a general filtering impairment in HTA individuals for task-irrelevant salient distractors during a WM maintenance phase.

Keywords Trait anxiety . Filtering efficiency . Working memory . Contralateral delay activity (CDA) . N2pc

Trait anxiety has long been associated with a preferential biasing of attentional resources toward threatening information sources (e.g., Bar-Haim, Lamy, Pergamin, Bakermans-Kranenburg, & van IJzendoorn, 2007;Bishop,2007; Cisler & Koster, 2010). Such negative attentional bias in anxious individuals may result in the unnecessary entry of threat-related information into their working memory (WM), promoting their worry, intrusive thoughts, and other anxiety-related cognitions that interfere with ongoing behavior (Thiruchselvam, Hajcak, & Gross, 2012). However, the mechanism of how these individuals process task-irrelevant negative information after it has captured their attention and entered WM remains unclear. WM is a limited-capacity system in which information is temporarily retained and manipulated in the mind to guide subsequent behavior (Baddeley, 2012). Given that the ability to filter task-irrelevant negative information from WM or to shift attention from an arousing portion of a negative-image representation within WM is vital for emotion regulation (Levens & Gotlib, 2010; Thiruchselvam et al., 2012), less-efficient regulation of irrelevant negative content during WM representation may underlie the development and maintenance of anxiety and anxiety disorders.

Stout, Shackman, and Larson (2013) have shown that threat-related distractors (fearful faces) are difficult to filter from visual-spatial WM, a difficulty that is exacerbated among high-trait-anxious (HTA) individuals because they allocate excessive WM storage to threat, even if it is irrelevant to the task. This study provided evidence of a specific deficit to filtering threat-related distractors from WM in trait anxiety. However, the question is whether this filtering deficit in WM is more general to cognitively challenging situations-no matter what types of information have to be filtered.

Trait anxiety has long been associated with impaired inhibition of distractors when internal or external threatening stimuli are present (Cisler & Koster, 2010). However, researchers have recently reported that this impairment in trait anxiety can be observed even in the absence of threat (e.g., Ansari & Derakshan, 2011a, 2011b; Berggren & Derakshan, 2013;Bishop,2009). …

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