, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 372-381

Trait anxiety and dynamic adjustments in conflict processing

Abstract

Recently, it has been assumed that high- and low-trait-anxious subjects differ in the way they use fundamental cognitive control mechanisms. The present study was designed to further elucidate this topic by focusing on trial-to-trial adjustments in neuronal correlates of conflict processing. An electroencephalogram was recorded while subjects (N=71) performed a gender discrimination version of the Stroop task. The conflict-related N400 of the ERP was influenced by an interaction between trait anxiety and previous trial context: An additional negative-going deflection in the N400 range was observed when the target—distractor pairing of the directly preceding trial was incongruent, but only in highly anxious subjects. Thus, highly anxious subjects appear to more strongly engage neuronal modules involved in conflict monitoring when previously exposed to a high stimulus-response conflict. These results indicate that trait anxiety is crucially linked to the way the cognitive system dynamically adapts to recent demands.