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Neuroimage. 2014 Feb 15;87:276-86. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.10.048. Epub 2013 Oct 31.

Brain systems underlying attentional control and emotional distraction during working memory encoding.

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School of Psychology, The University of Queensland, St Lucia QLD 4072, Australia. Electronic address:
Department of Psychology, Uppsala University, Box 1225, 751 42 Uppsala, Sweden; Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.
Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden; Umeå Center for Functional Brain Imaging (UFBI), Sweden; Aging Research Center (ARC) at Karolinska Institute and Stockholm University, Gävlegatan 16, 113 30 Stockholm, Sweden. Electronic address:


Goal-directed behavior requires that cognitive operations can be protected from emotional distraction induced by task-irrelevant emotional stimuli. The brain processes involved in attending to relevant information while filtering out irrelevant information are still largely unknown. To investigate the neural and behavioral underpinnings of attending to task-relevant emotional stimuli while ignoring irrelevant stimuli, we used fMRI to assess brain responses during attentional instructed encoding within an emotional working memory (WM) paradigm. We showed that instructed attention to emotion during WM encoding resulted in enhanced performance, by means of increased memory performance and reduced reaction time, compared to passive viewing. A similar performance benefit was also demonstrated for recognition memory performance, although for positive pictures only. Functional MRI data revealed a network of regions involved in directed attention to emotional information for both positive and negative pictures that included medial and lateral prefrontal cortices, fusiform gyrus, insula, the parahippocampal gyrus, and the amygdala. Moreover, we demonstrate that regions in the striatum, and regions associated with the default-mode network were differentially activated for emotional distraction compared to neutral distraction. Activation in a sub-set of these regions was related to individual differences in WM and recognition memory performance, thus likely contributing to performing the task at an optimal level. The present results provide initial insights into the behavioral and neural consequences of instructed attention and emotional distraction during WM encoding.


Amygdala; Bottom-up; Default-mode; Emotion; Emotional distraction; Fronto-parietal; Interference control; Selective attention; Top-down; Working memory; fMRI

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