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J Psychiatr Res. 2011 Sep;45(9):1184-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2011.02.008. Epub 2011 Mar 16.

The influence of emotional distraction on verbal working memory: an fMRI investigation comparing individuals with schizophrenia and healthy adults.

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Brain Imaging and Analysis Center, Duke University, Durham, NC 27705, USA.


The ability to maintain information over short periods of time (i.e., working memory) is critically important in a variety of cognitive functions including language, planning, and decision-making. Recent functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) research with healthy adults has shown that brain activations evoked during the delay interval of working memory tasks can be reduced by the presentation of distracting emotional events, suggesting that emotional events may take working-memory processes momentarily offline. Both executive function and emotional processing are disrupted in schizophrenia, and here we sought to elucidate the effect of emotional distraction upon brain activity in schizophrenic and healthy adults performing a verbal working memory task. During the delay period between the memoranda and memory probe items, emotional and neutral distractors differentially influenced brain activity in these groups. In healthy adults, the hemodynamic response from posterior cingulate, orbital frontal cortex, and the parietal lobe strongly differentiated emotional from neutral distractors. In striking contrast, schizophrenic adults showed no significant differences in brain activation when processing emotional and neutral distractors. Moreover, the influence of emotional distractors extended into the memory probe period in healthy, but not schizophrenic, adults. The results suggest that although emotional items are highly salient for healthy adults, emotional items are no more distracting than neutral ones to individuals with schizophrenia.

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