Intermixed Cognition: An assessment of threat, neutral & color word processing

Publication Date

April 2015


Charles Sanislow




English (United States)


Limited attentional resources are depleted during the processing of emotional and cognitive material. Enhanced performance on cognitive tasks has been associated with selective attention towards relevant aspects of stimuli, despite the presence of distracting information. The present study fused the color-naming and emotional Stroop tasks into a hybrid Stroop task that assessed cognitive control in terms of whether participants successfully attended to word color rather than distracting semantic content. Cognitively distracting semantic content in color incongruent trials produced interference, evident in the prolonged mean response time. In contrast, emotionally distracting semantic content in threat trials did not produce emotional interference and had equivalent response times compared with neutral trials. Scores on individual difference measures, specifically perfectionism, were associated with reduced response times on all trials. Additionally, a recognition memory task revealed enhanced recognition of trauma-related threat, suggesting deeper encoding. Response latencies during the Hybrid Stroop suggest that directing attention towards the cognitive task of color-naming reduced the impact of emotionally distracting trials. Hypervigilant responses among participants with higher scores on the individual difference measures may have indicated consciously mediated selective processing. These findings imply that when confronting cognitive and emotional distractions during a cognitive task, individuals will selectively attend toward cognitive material while simultaneously encoding salient emotional information.

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