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Neuroimage. 2007 Aug 15;37(2):623-32. Epub 2007 May 18.

Valence-specific regulation effects in a working memory task with emotional context.

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Department of Psychiatry, Division of Medical Psychology, University of Bonn, Sigmund-Freud-Str. 25, D-53105 Bonn, Germany.


The modulatory effects of emotional context on episodic memory have been shown recently. We were interested whether working memory is similarly susceptible to emotional context or whether working memory helps to distract from emotion, i.e. serves to downregulate emotional reactions in order to sustain the prior intention. We tested the effects of emotional stimulation during active maintenance of information by modulating the emotional context of maintenance processes in a Sternberg item recognition task with two load conditions. Behavioral data revealed no impairment of working memory performance during emotional context. Actually, behavioral performance was better for emotional compared to neutral context during high load. Furthermore, emotional context had no interference effect on working memory-related brain activation. Instead, we found a valence-specific regulation effect: High cognitive effort was associated with reduced activity in emotion processing regions, i.e. the amygdala and ventral striatum. This effect was mediated by different prefrontal regions, i.e. by left inferior PFC for negative and left superior PFC for positive valence. Furthermore, our results reveal an integration effect of emotion and cognition in right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex showing increased recruitment with increasing complexity of the task. The results presented here are of relevance for the understanding of regulatory mechanisms and diseases characterized by increased susceptibility to emotional distraction.

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