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Exp Brain Res. 2014 Jun;232(6):1895-903. doi: 10.1007/s00221-014-3881-5. Epub 2014 Mar 1.

Neuroticism focuses attention: evidence from SSVEPs.

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Neuropsychology Lab, Department of Psychology, European Medical School, Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, 26111, Oldenburg, Germany.


Neuroticism and negative affect have been associated with an increase in attentional investment and the greater processing of irrelevant stimuli. Previous research proposes the overinvestment of attention and a focused mental state as the mechanism of this effect. We investigated the neural correlates of this idea using a dual-stream rapid serial visual presentation paradigm with centrally presented, overlapping streams of letters that changed at different frequencies. Participants attended one stream at a time. We predicted that the more focused cognitive style associated with higher neuroticism would be reflected in the overinvestment of attention in the irrelevant stream of to-be-ignored letters, in particular, when the ignored stream was the more salient one. This was expected to lead to a smaller difference in power between the attended and unattended frequencies. Results showed that power differences between attended and unattended streams were negatively correlated with neuroticism scores in direct support of our hypothesis. Exploratory correlations also showed that extraversion was positively related to the attention difference. As extraversion has been contrasted to neuroticism and linked to increased cognitive flexibility and control in previous studies, it is possible that this trait may help in disengagement from salient stimuli. Together, these results provide the first neural correlates of the focused cognitive style idea. That the effect of extraversion is seen in the centro-parietal region and the effect of neuroticism is seen in the occipital region, indicate that these personality traits may affect the hierarchy of visual information processing. These findings provide new insight into the influence of personality traits on attention mechanisms and open up questions regarding the relationship between neuroticism, extraversion and information processing.

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