Perceived threat modulates inhibitory performance

Emotion. 2020 Mar 19. doi: 10.1037/emo0000746. Online ahead of print.


Highly arousing, affective stimuli have adverse effects on cognition and performance. Perception of affective stimuli is, however, highly subjective and may impact on the interaction of emotion and cognition. Here, we tested the impact of high- versus low-threatening stimuli on response inhibition as a function of perceived threat intensity. Response inhibition was probed using a stop-signal paradigm in 62 healthy adults. We used stop-signals that had previously been paired with an unpleasant electrodermal stimulation (i.e., high-threat stimuli) or that had never been paired with electrodermal stimulation (i.e., low-threat stimuli). High-threat stimuli did not affect stopping performance in general. Only participants who perceived the high-threat stimuli as highly painful showed impaired response inhibition on high-threat trials relative to low-threat trials. Participants who perceived the high-threat as mildly painful, however, showed improved response inhibition on high-threat trials. This effect was not moderated by the current anxious state. This suggests that the impact of negative affective stimuli on cognition critically depends on subjective threat perception. Ratings of affective stimuli should be included in studies probing the emotion-cognition interaction because subjective perception might strongly impact on that interaction. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).