Neural Processing of Cognitive Control in an Emotionally Neutral Context in Anxiety Patients

Brain Sci. 2021 Apr 26;11(5):543. doi: 10.3390/brainsci11050543.


Impaired cognitive control plays a crucial role in anxiety disorders and is associated with deficient neural mechanisms in the fronto-parietal network. Usually, these deficits were found in tasks with an emotional context. The present study aimed at investigating electrophysiological and vascular signatures from event-related brain potentials (ERPs) and functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) in anxiety patients versus healthy controls during an inhibition task integrated in an emotionally neutral context. Neural markers were acquired during the completion of a classical Eriksen flanker task. The focus of data analysis has been the ERPs N200 and P300 and fNIRS activations in addition to task performance. No behavioral or neural group differences were identified. ERP findings showed a larger N2pc and a delayed and reduced P300 for incongruent stimuli. The N2pc modulation suggests the reorienting of attention to salient stimuli, while the P300 indicates longer lasting stimulus evaluation processes due to increased task difficulty. FNIRS did not result in any significant activation potentially suggesting a contribution from deeper brain areas not measurable with fNIRS. The missing group difference in our non-emotional task indicates that no generalized cognitive control deficit but rather a more emotionally driven deficit is present in anxiety patients.

Keywords: N200; P300; anxiety disorder; cognitive control; event-related brain potentials (ERPs); flanker task; functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS).