Dynamic adjustments in working memory in the face of affective interference

  • J. E. Witkin
  • A. P. Zanesco
  • E. Denkova
  • A. P. JhaEmail author


Cognitive control, which allows for the selection and monitoring of goal-relevant behavior, is dynamically upregulated on the basis of moment-to-moment cognitive demands. One route by which these demands are registered by cognitive control systems is via the detection of response conflict. Yet working memory (WM) demands may similarly signal dynamic adjustments in cognitive control. In a delayed-recognition WM task, Jha and Kiyonaga (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 36(4), 1036–1042, 2010) demonstrated dynamic adjustments in cognitive control via manipulations of mnemonic load and delay-spanning cognitive interference. In the present study, we aimed to extend prior work by investigating whether affective interference may similarly upregulate cognitive control. In Experiment 1, participants (N = 89) completed a delayed-recognition WM task in which mnemonic load (memory load of one vs. two items) and delay-spanning affective interference (neutral vs. negative distractors) were manipulated in a factorial design. Consistent with Jha and Kiyonaga, the present results revealed that mnemonic load led to dynamic adjustments in cognitive control, as reflected by greater performance on trials preceded by high than by low load. In addition, we observed that affective interference could trigger dynamic adjustments in cognitive control, as evinced by higher performance on trials preceded by negative than by neutral distractors. These findings were subsequently confirmed in Experiment 2, which was a pre-registered replication study (N = 100). Thus, these results suggest that in addition to dynamic adjustments as a function of mnemonic load, affective interference, similar to cognitive interference (Jha & Kiyonaga Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 36(4), 1036–1042, 2010), may trigger dynamic adjustments in cognitive control during a WM task.


Working memory Cognitive control Emotion 



The authors thank Ethan Homedi, Shivani Hanchate, Joseph Dunn, and Azin Pooresmaeil for their help with data collection. This work was supported by US Department of Defense, Department of the Army Grant #W81XWH-11-2-0124, awarded to A.P.J., and by a research grant awarded to J.E.W. by the Department of Psychology at the University of Miami and by Fred C. and Helen Donn Flipse.


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. E. Witkin
    • 1
  • A. P. Zanesco
    • 1
  • E. Denkova
    • 1
  • A. P. Jha
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA

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