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PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e38155. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038155. Epub 2012 May 29.

Brain circuitries involved in semantic interference by demands of emotional and non-emotional distractors.

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Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Medical School, RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany.



Previous studies have indicated that the processes leading to the resolution of emotional and non-emotional interference conflicts are unrelated, involving separate networks. It is also known that conflict resolution itself suggests a considerable overlap of the networks. Our study is an attempt to examine how these findings may be related.


We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study neural responses of 24 healthy subjects to emotional and non-emotional conflict paradigms involving the presentation of congruent and incongruent word-face pairs based on semantic incompatibility between targets and distractors. In the emotional task, the behavioral interference conflict was greater (compared to the non-emotional task) and was paralleled by involvement of the extrastriate visual and posterodorsal medial frontal cortices. In both tasks, we also observed a common network including the dorsal anterior cingulate, the supplemental motor area, the anterior insula and the inferior prefrontal cortex, indicating that these brain structures are markers of experienced conflict. However, the emotional task involved conflict-triggered networks to a considerably higher degree.


Our findings indicate that responses to emotional and non-emotional distractors involve the same systems, which are capable of flexible adjustments based on conflict demands. The function of systems related to conflict resolution is likely to be adjusted on the basis of an evaluation process that primarily involves the extrastriate visual cortex, with target playing a significant role.

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