Distracted and down: Neural mechanisms of affective interference in subclinical depression

Roselinde H. Kaiser, Jessica R. Andrews-Hanna, Jeffrey M. Spielberg, Stacie L. Warren, Bradley P. Sutton, Gregory A. Miller, Wendy Heller, Marie T. Banich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Previous studies have shown that depressed individuals have difficulty directing attention away from negative distractors, a phenomenon known as affective interference. However, findings are mixed regarding the neural mechanisms and network dynamics of affective interference. The present study addressed these issues by comparing neural activation during emotion-word and color-word Stroop tasks in participants with varying levels of (primarily subclinical) depression. Depressive symptoms predicted increased activation to negative distractors in areas of dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), regions implicated in cognitive control and internally directed attention, respectively. Increased dACC activity was also observed in the group-average response to incongruent distractors, suggesting that dACC activity during affective interference is related to overtaxed cognitive control. In contrast, regions of PCC were deactivated across the group in response to incongruent distractors, suggesting that PCC activity during affective interference represents task-independent processing. A psychophysiological interaction emerged in which higher depression predicted more positively correlated activity between dACC and PCC during affective interference, i.e. greater connectivity between cognitive control and internal-attention systems. These findings suggest that, when individuals high in depression are confronted by negative material, increased attention to internal thoughts and difficulty shifting resources to the external world interfere with goal-directed behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)654-663
Number of pages10
JournalSocial cognitive and affective neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Connectivity
  • Default network
  • Depression
  • Emotion
  • Executive function

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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