Published on Sat Oct 09 2021

Neural mechanisms underlying anxiety-related deficits of attentional inhibition: direct ERP evidence from the Pd component

Hu, L., Zhang, H., Tang, H., Shen, L., Wu, R., Huang, Y.

Anxious individuals tend to be distracted by irrelevant stimulation. Findings suggest that anxious individuals may have a general impairment of attentional control, especially inhibition function. However, the neural mechanism underlying the anxiety-related impairment is unclear.

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Abstract

Behavioral evidence shows that anxious individuals tend to be distracted by irrelevant stimulation not only for threat-related stimuli but also for non-emotional neutral stimuli. These findings suggest that anxious individuals may have a general impairment of attentional control, especially inhibition function. However, the neural mechanism underlying the anxiety-related impairment in attentional control is unclear. Here, in a visual search task with geometric stimuli, we examined attentional processing of the non-emotional neutral distractor on participants with different levels of anxiety, using the event-related-potential (ERP) indices of attentional selection (N2 posterior contralateral [N2pc]) and top-down inhibition (distractor positivity [Pd]). We found that distractor-evoked Pd amplitudes were negatively correlated with trait-anxiety scores, i.e., the higher the level of anxiety, the worse the ability of attentional inhibition. In contrast, the amplitudes of distractor-evoked N2pc did not vary with anxiety levels, suggesting that trait-anxiety level does not affect stimulus-driven attentional capture. We also observed attentional processing of target stimuli and found that the peak latency of target-evoked N2pc was delayed as anxiety levels rise, suggesting that anxiety impairs the efficiency of top-down attentional selection of the target. The present study provides direct neurophysiological evidence for general anxiety-related impairment of attentional control.