Conflict and control in cortical responses to inconsistent emotional signals in a face-word Stroop

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Frontiers in Human Neuroscience


Social communication is fraught with ambiguity. Negotiating the social world requires interpreting the affective signals we receive and often selecting between channels of conflicting affective information. The affective face-word Stroop (AFWS) provides an experimental paradigm which may identify cognitive-affective control mechanisms underpinning essential social-affective skills. Initial functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of the AFWS identified right amygdala as driving this affective conflict and left rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) as the locus of conflict control. We employed electroencephalogram (EEG) and eLORETA source localization to investigate the timing, location, and sequence of control processes when responding to affective conflict generated during the AFWS. However we designated affective word as the response target and affective face as the distractor to maximize conflict and control effects. Reaction times showed slowed responses in high vs. low control conditions, corresponding to a Rabbitt type control effect rather than the previously observed Grattan effect. Control related activation occurred in right rACC 96–118 ms post-stimulus, corresponding to the resolution of the P1 peak in the Visual Evoked Potential (VEP). Face distractors elicit right hemisphere control, while word distractors elicit left hemisphere control. Low control trials require rapid “booting up” control resources observable through VEPs. Incongruent trial activity in right fusiform face area is suppressed 118–156 ms post stimulus corresponding to onset and development of the N170 VEP component. Results are consistent with a predicted sequence of rapid early amygdala activation by affective conflict, then rACC inhibition of amygdala decreasing facilitation of affective face processing (however, amygdala activity is not observable with EEG).

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