Dissociable neural systems resolve conflict from emotional versus nonemotional distracters.
The human brain protects the processing of task-relevant stimuli from interference ("conflict") by task-irrelevant stimuli via attentional biasing mechanisms. The lateral prefrontal cortex has been implicated in resolving conflict between competing stimuli by selectively enhancing task-relevant stimulus representations in sensory cortices. Conversely, recent data suggest that conflict from emotional distracters may be resolved by an alternative route, wherein the rostral anterior cingulate cortex inhibits amygdalar responsiveness to task-irrelevant emotional stimuli. Here we tested the proposal of 2 dissociable, distracter-specific conflict resolution mechanisms, by acquiring functional magnetic resonance imaging data during resolution of conflict from either nonemotional or emotional distracters. The results revealed 2 distinct circuits: a lateral prefrontal "cognitive control" system that resolved nonemotional conflict and was associated with enhanced processing of task-relevant stimuli in sensory cortices, and a rostral anterior cingulate "emotional control" system that resolved emotional conflict and was associated with decreased amygdalar responses to emotional distracters. By contrast, activations related to both emotional and nonemotional conflict monitoring were observed in a common region of the dorsal anterior cingulate. These data suggest that the neuroanatomical networks recruited to overcome conflict vary systematically with the nature of the conflict, but that they may share a common conflict-detection mechanism.
Egner, T; Etkin, A; Gale, S; Hirsch, J
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