Anxiety, emotional distraction, and attentional control in the Stroop task

Eyal Kalanthroff, Avishai Henik, Nazanin Derakshan, Marius Usher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Using a Stroop task, we investigated the effect of task-irrelevant emotional distractors on attentional proactive control and its interaction with trait anxiety. On the basis of recent findings showing opposed neural responses in the dorsal-executive versus the ventral-emotional systems in response to emotional distractors and of the attentional control theory (Eysenck, Derakshan, Santos, & Calvo, 2007), we hypothesized that negative distractors will result in a reduction of proactive task control in the executive system, especially for high-trait-anxious individuals. Using a computational model of the Stroop task, we derive 2 specific behavioral predictions of reduced proactive task control: increased Stroop interference and reversed Stroop facilitation. Twenty-five high- and 25 low-traitanxious participants completed a Stroop task in which the target stimuli were preceded by brief (neutral vs. aversive) emotional distractors. While no effects of picture valence on proactive control was found in the low-anxious group, the predicted signatures of reduced proactive control were observed in the high-anxiety group. These results indicate that trait anxiety influences the interaction between irrelevant emotional stimuli and proactive control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-300
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2016


  • Anxiety
  • Emotion
  • Executive control
  • Stroop
  • Task conflict

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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