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Unraveling the anxious mind: anxiety, worry, and frontal engagement in sustained attention versus off-task processing

Forster, S., Nunez Elizalde, A. O., Castle, E. and Bishop, S. J. (2015) Unraveling the anxious mind: anxiety, worry, and frontal engagement in sustained attention versus off-task processing. Cerebral Cortex, 25 (3). pp. 609-618. ISSN 1047-3211

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bht248

Abstract/Summary

Much remains unknown regarding the relationship between anxiety, worry, sustained attention, and frontal function. Here, we addressed this using a sustained attention task adapted for functional magnetic resonance imaging. Participants responded to presentation of simple stimuli, withholding responses to an infrequent “No Go” stimulus. Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) activity to “Go” trials, and dorsal anterior cingulate (dACC) activity to “No Go” trials were associated with faster error-free performance; consistent with DLPFC and dACC facilitating proactive and reactive control, respectively. Trait anxiety was linked to reduced recruitment of these regions, slower error-free performance, and decreased frontal-thalamo-striatal connectivity. This indicates an association between trait anxiety and impoverished frontal control of attention, even when external distractors are absent. In task blocks where commission errors were made, greater DLPFC-precuneus and DLPFC-posterior cingulate connectivity were associated with both trait anxiety and worry, indicative of increased off-task thought. Notably, unlike trait anxiety, worry was not linked to reduced frontal-striatal-thalamo connectivity, impoverished frontal recruitment, or slowed responding during blocks without commission errors, contrary to accounts proposing a direct causal link between worry and impoverished attentional control. This leads us to propose a new model of the relationship between anxiety, worry and frontal engagement in attentional control versus off-task thought.

Item Type:Article
Refereed:Yes
Divisions:Faculty of Life Sciences > School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences > Department of Psychology
ID Code:86896
Publisher:Oxford University Press

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