The interference of operant task performance by emotional distracters: An antagonistic relationship between the amygdala and frontoparietal cortices

D. G.V. Mitchell, Q. Luo, K. Mondillo, M. Vythilingam, E. C. Finger, R. J.R. Blair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

67 Scopus citations


This fMRI study investigates neural activity associated with the interfering effects of emotional distracters. While in the scanner, participants made simple motor responses to target stimuli that were preceded and followed by positive, negative, or neutral images. Despite instructions to disregard the pictorial images, participants were slower to respond in the presence of positive or negative relative to neutral distracters, and significantly slower for negative relative to positive distracters. Enhanced activity in the amygdala and visual cortex was evident during trials that included positive and negative distracters. In contrast, increased activity in inferior frontal gyrus (BA 47) was only observed during trials that involved negative distracters. Connectivity analysis showed that activity in right amygdala correlated with activity in cingulate gyrus, posterior cingulate, middle temporal cortex, and was negatively correlated with activity in lateral superior frontal gyrus, middle frontal/orbital gyrus, and parietal cortex. The pattern of neural activity observed was interpreted within the framework of current cognitive models of attention. During a task demonstrating behavioural interference in the context of emotional distracters, increased activity in neural regions implicated in emotional processing (the amygdala) was associated with reduced activity in regions thought to be involved in exerting attentional control over task-relevant sensory representations (a frontoparietal network).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)859-868
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2008



  • Amygdala
  • Biased competition model of attention
  • Conditioned suppression
  • Emotional attention
  • Emotional bias

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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