Affective Modulation of Executive Control
Emotions are pervasive in daily life, and a rich literature has documented how emotional stimuli and events disrupt ongoing processing and place heightened demands on control. Yet the executive control mechanisms that subsequently resolve that interference have not been well characterized. Although many failures of executive control have emotion at their core, numerous questions remain in the field regarding interactions between emotion and executive control. How do executive processes act on affective representations? Are emotional representations less amenable to control? Do distinct processes or neural networks govern their control? The present dissertation addresses these questions by investigating the neural systems and cognitive processes that support executive control in the face of interference from affective sources. Whereas previous research has emphasized the bottom-up impact of emotion on cognition, this dissertation will investigate how top-down executive control signals modulate affect's influence on cognition. Combining behavioral techniques with neuroimaging methodologies, this dissertation characterizes the interactive relationship between affective processes and top-down executive control and the ramifications of that interaction for promoting adaptive behavior.
Cognitive and behavioral phenomena related to affective interference resolution are explored in a series of research projects spanning attention and memory. Task-irrelevant affective representations may disrupt performance, but this interference appears to be dependent on top-down factors and can be resolved by executive mechanisms. Interference resolution mechanisms act on representations both of stimuli in the environment and information stored in memory. The findings reported here support emotion's capacity to disrupt executive processing but also highlight the role executive control plays in overcoming that interference in order to promote adaptive behavior.
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