Task difficulty modulates brain activation in the emotional oddball task.


Previous functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have reported that task-irrelevant, emotionally salient events can disrupt target discrimination, particularly when attentional demands are low, while others demonstrate alterations in the distracting effects of emotion in behavior and neural activation in the context of attention-demanding tasks. We used fMRI, in conjunction with an emotional oddball task, at different levels of target discrimination difficulty, to investigate the effects of emotional distractors on the detection of subsequent targets. In addition, we distinguished different behavioral components of target detection representing decisional, nondecisional, and response criterion processes. Results indicated that increasing target discrimination difficulty led to increased time required for both the decisional and nondecisional components of the detection response, as well as to increased target-related neural activation in frontoparietal regions. The emotional distractors were associated with activation in ventral occipital and frontal regions and dorsal frontal regions, but this activation was attenuated with increased difficulty. Emotional distraction did not alter the behavioral measures of target detection, but did lead to increased target-related frontoparietal activation for targets following emotional images as compared to those following neutral images. This latter effect varied with target discrimination difficulty, with an increased influence of the emotional distractors on subsequent target-related frontoparietal activation in the more difficult discrimination condition. This influence of emotional distraction was in addition associated specifically with the decisional component of target detection. These findings indicate that emotion-cognition interactions, in the emotional oddball task, vary depending on the difficulty of the target discrimination and the associated limitations on processing resources.





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Publication Info

Siciliano, Rachel E, David J Madden, Catherine W Tallman, Maria A Boylan, Imke Kirste, Zachary A Monge, Lauren E Packard, Guy G Potter, et al. (2017). Task difficulty modulates brain activation in the emotional oddball task. Brain Res, 1664. pp. 74–86. 10.1016/j.brainres.2017.03.028 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/15953.

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David Joseph Madden

Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

My research focuses primarily on the cognitive neuroscience of aging: the investigation of age-related changes in perception, attention, and memory, using both behavioral measures and neuroimaging techniques, including positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).

The behavioral measures have focused on reaction time, with the goal of distinguishing age-related changes in specific cognitive abilities from more general effects arising from a slowing in elementary perceptual processes. The cognitive abilities of interest include selective attention as measured in visual search tasks, semantic and episodic memory retrieval, and executive control processes.

The behavioral measures are necessary to define the cognitive abilities of interest, and the neuroimaging techniques help define the functional neuroanatomy of those abilities. The PET and fMRI measures provide information regarding neural activity during cognitive performance. DTI is a recently developed technique that images the structural integrity of white matter. The white matter tracts of the brain provide critical pathways linking the gray matter regions, and thus this work will complement the studies using PET and fMRI that focus on gray matter activation.

A current focus of the research program is the functional connectivity among regions, not only during cognitive task performance but also during rest. These latter measures, referred to as intrinsic functional connectivity, are beginning to show promise as an index of overall brain functional efficiency, which can be assessed without the implementation of a specific cognitive task. From DTI, information can be obtained regarding how anatomical connectivity constrains intrinsic functional connectivity. It will be important to determine the relative influence of white matter pathway integrity, intrinsic functional connectivity, and task-related functional connectivity, as mediators of age-related differences in behavioral measures of cognitive performance.

Ultimately, the research program can help link age-related changes in cognitive performance to changes in the structure and function of specific neural systems. The results also have implications for clinical translation, in terms of the identification of neural biomarkers for the diagnosis of neural pathology and targeting rehabilitation procedures.


Guy Glenn Potter

Associate Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Lihong Wang

Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

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