Emotional task management: neural correlates of switching between affective and non-affective task-sets.
Although task-switching has been investigated extensively, its interaction with emotionally salient task content remains unclear. Prioritized processing of affective stimulus content may enhance accessibility of affective task-sets and generate increased interference when switching between affective and non-affective task-sets. Previous research has demonstrated that more dominant task-sets experience greater switch costs, as they necessitate active inhibition during performance of less entrenched tasks. Extending this logic to the affective domain, the present experiment examined (a) whether affective task-sets are more dominant than non-affective ones, and (b) what neural mechanisms regulate affective task-sets, so that weaker, non-affective task-sets can be executed. While undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging, participants categorized face stimuli according to either their gender (non-affective task) or their emotional expression (affective task). Behavioral results were consistent with the affective task dominance hypothesis: participants were slower to switch to the affective task, and cross-task interference was strongest when participants tried to switch from the affective to the non-affective task. These behavioral costs of controlling the affective task-set were mirrored in the activation of a right-lateralized frontostriatal network previously implicated in task-set updating and response inhibition. Connectivity between amygdala and right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex was especially pronounced during cross-task interference from affective features.
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