Emotion and goal-directed behavior: ERP evidence on cognitive and emotional conflict

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2015 Nov;10(11):1577-87. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsv050. Epub 2015 Apr 28.


Cognitive control supports goal-directed behavior by resolving conflict among opposing action tendencies. Emotion can trigger cognitive control processes, thus speeding up conflict processing when the target dimension of stimuli is emotional. However, it is unclear what role emotionality of the target dimension plays in the processing of emotional conflict (e.g. in irony). In two EEG experiments, we compared the influence of emotional valence of the target (emotional, neutral) in cognitive and emotional conflict processing. To maximally approximate real-life communication, we used audiovisual stimuli. Participants either categorized spoken vowels (cognitive conflict) or their emotional valence (emotional conflict), while visual information was congruent or incongruent. Emotional target dimension facilitated both cognitive and emotional conflict processing, as shown in a reduced reaction time conflict effect. In contrast, the N100 in the event-related potentials showed a conflict-specific reversal: the conflict effect was larger for emotional compared with neutral trials in cognitive conflict and smaller in emotional conflict. Additionally, domain-general conflict effects were observed in the P200 and N200 responses. The current findings confirm that emotions have a strong influence on cognitive and emotional conflict processing. They also highlight the complexity and heterogeneity of the interaction of emotion with different types of conflict.

Keywords: cognitive conflict; cognitive control; conflict processing; emotion; emotional conflict.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Young Adult