Worry is associated with inefficient functional activity and connectivity in prefrontal and cingulate cortices during emotional interference

Holly Barker, James Munro, Elenor Morgenroth , Natasza Orlov, Michael Eysenck, Jason Moser , Paul Allen

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Introduction: Anxiety is known to impair attentional control particularly when task demands are high. Neuroimaging studies generally support these behavioral findings, reporting that anxiety is associated with increased (inefficient) activity in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) during attentional control tasks. However, less is known about the relationship between worry (part of the cognitive dimension of trait anxiety) and DLPFC/ACC function and connectivity during attentional control. In the present study we sought to clarify this relationship.
Methods: Forty-one participants underwent functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) during a composite faces and scenes task (CFST) with high and low emotional interference conditions. Individual worry levels were assessed using the Penn State Worry Questionnaire (PSWQ).
Results: During high but not low emotional interference, worry was associated with increased activity in ACC, DLPFC, insula and inferior parietal cortex. During high emotional interference, worry was also associated with reduced functional connectivity between ACC and DLPFC. Trait anxiety was not associated with changes in DLPFC/ACC activity or connectivity during either task condition.
Conclusions: The results are consistent with cognitive models that propose worry competes for limited processing resources resulting in inefficient DLPFC and ACC activity when tasks demands are high. Limitations of the present study and directions for future work are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBrain and Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2018

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