, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 321-331
Date: 10 May 2011

Working memory load reduces the late positive potential and this effect is attenuated with increasing anxiety


Emotion regulation decreases the processing of arousing stimuli, as indexed by the late positive potential (LPP), an electrocortical component that varies in amplitude with emotional arousal. Emotion regulation increases activity in the prefrontal areas associated with cognitive control, including the dosolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). The present study manipulated working memory load, known to activate the DLPFC, and recorded the LPP elicited by aversive and neutral IAPS pictures presented during the retention interval. The LPP was larger on low-load compared to high-load trials, and on trials with aversive compared to neutral pictures. These LPP data suggest that emotional content and working memory load have opposing effects on attention to distracting stimuli. State anxiety was associated with reduced modulation of the LPP by working memory load. Results are discussed in terms of competition for attention between emotion and cognition and suggest a relationship between DLPFC activation and the allocation of attentional resources to distracting visual stimuli–a relationship that may be disrupted with increasing anxiety.