Publications by authors named "Mathias Weymar"

47 Publications

Brain potentials reveal reduced attention and error-processing during a monetary Go/No-Go task in procrastination.

Sci Rep 2020 11 12;10(1):19678. Epub 2020 Nov 12.

Department of Biological Psychology and Affective Science, Faculty of Human Sciences, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany.

Procrastination is a self-regulatory problem of voluntarily and destructively delaying intended and necessary or personally important tasks. Previous studies showed that procrastination is associated with executive dysfunctions that seem to be particularly strong in punishing contexts. In the present event-related potential (ERP) study a monetary version of the parametric Go/No-Go task was performed by high and low academic procrastinators to verify the influence of motivational context (reward vs. punishment expectation) and task difficulty (easy vs. hard) on procrastination-related executive dysfunctions. The results revealed increased post-error slowing along with reduced P300 and error-related negativity (ERN) amplitudes in high (vs. low) procrastination participants-effects that indicate impaired attention and error-related processing in this group. This pattern of results did not differ as a function of task difficulty and motivation condition. However, when the task got more difficult executive attention deficits became even more apparent at the behavioral level in high procrastinators, as indexed by increased reaction time variability. The findings substantiate prior preliminary evidence that procrastinators show difficulties in certain aspects of executive functioning (in attention and error processing) during execution of task-relevant behavior, which may be more apparent in highly demanding situations.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-75311-2DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7661523PMC
November 2020

Cortical thickness and resting-state cardiac function across the lifespan: A cross-sectional pooled mega-analysis.

Psychophysiology 2020 Oct 10. Epub 2020 Oct 10.

Norwegian Centre for Mental Disorders Research (NORMENT), Institute of Clinical Medicine, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.

Understanding the association between autonomic nervous system [ANS] function and brain morphology across the lifespan provides important insights into neurovisceral mechanisms underlying health and disease. Resting-state ANS activity, indexed by measures of heart rate [HR] and its variability [HRV] has been associated with brain morphology, particularly cortical thickness [CT]. While findings have been mixed regarding the anatomical distribution and direction of the associations, these inconsistencies may be due to sex and age differences in HR/HRV and CT. Previous studies have been limited by small sample sizes, which impede the assessment of sex differences and aging effects on the association between ANS function and CT. To overcome these limitations, 20 groups worldwide contributed data collected under similar protocols of CT assessment and HR/HRV recording to be pooled in a mega-analysis (N = 1,218 (50.5% female), mean age 36.7 years (range: 12-87)). Findings suggest a decline in HRV as well as CT with increasing age. CT, particularly in the orbitofrontal cortex, explained additional variance in HRV, beyond the effects of aging. This pattern of results may suggest that the decline in HRV with increasing age is related to a decline in orbitofrontal CT. These effects were independent of sex and specific to HRV; with no significant association between CT and HR. Greater CT across the adult lifespan may be vital for the maintenance of healthy cardiac regulation via the ANS-or greater cardiac vagal activity as indirectly reflected in HRV may slow brain atrophy. Findings reveal an important association between CT and cardiac parasympathetic activity with implications for healthy aging and longevity that should be studied further in longitudinal research.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13688DOI Listing
October 2020

Stress Alters the Neural Context for Building New Memories.

J Cogn Neurosci 2020 Dec 7;32(12):2226-2240. Epub 2020 Aug 7.

Universität Hamburg.

Stressful events affect mnemonic processing, in particular for emotionally arousing events. Previous research on the mechanisms underlying stress effects on human memory focused on stress-induced changes in the neural activity elicited by a stimulus. We tested an alternative mechanism and hypothesized that stress may already alter the neural context for successful memory formation, reflected in the neural activity preceding a stimulus. Therefore, 69 participants underwent a stress or control procedure before encoding neutral and negative pictures. During encoding, we recorded high-density EEG and analyzed-based on multivariate searchlight analyses-oscillatory activity and cross-frequency coupling patterns before stimulus onset that were predictive of memory tested 24 hr later. Prestimulus theta predicted subsequent memory in controls but not in stressed participants. Instead, prestimulus gamma predicted successful memory formation after stress, specifically for emotional material. Likewise, stress altered the patterns of prestimulus theta-beta and theta-gamma phase-amplitude coupling predictive of subsequent memory, again depending on the emotionality of the presented material. Our data suggest that stress changes the neural context for building new memories, tuning this neural context specifically to the encoding of emotionally salient events. These findings point to a yet unknown mechanism through which stressful events may change (emotional) memory formation.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1162/jocn_a_01613DOI Listing
December 2020

Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulation (tVNS) Improves High-Confidence Recognition Memory but Not Emotional Word Processing.

Front Psychol 2020 9;11:1276. Epub 2020 Jul 9.

Department of Biological Psychology and Affective Science, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany.

Previous clinical research found that invasive vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) enhanced word recognition memory in epileptic patients, an effect assumed to be related to the activation of brainstem arousal systems. In this study, we applied non-invasive transcutaneous auricular VNS (tVNS) to replicate and extend the previous work. Using a single-blind, randomized, between-subject design, 60 healthy volunteers received active or sham stimulation during a lexical decision task, in which emotional and neutral stimuli were classified as words or non-words. In a subsequent recognition memory task (1 day after stimulation), participants' memory performance on these words and their subjective memory confidence were tested. Salivary alpha-amylase (sAA) levels, a putative indirect measure of central noradrenergic activation, were also measured before and after stimulation. During encoding, pleasant words were more accurately detected than neutral and unpleasant words. However, no tVNS effects were observed on task performance or on overall sAA level changes. tVNS also did not modulate overall recognition memory, which was particularly enhanced for pleasant emotional words. However, when hit rates were split based on confidence ratings reflecting familiarity- and recollection-based memory, higher recollection-based memory performance (irrespective of emotional category) was observed during active stimulation than during sham stimulation. To summarize, we replicated prior findings of enhanced processing and memory for emotional (pleasant) words. Whereas tVNS showed no effects on word processing, subtle effects on recollection-based memory performance emerged, which may indicate that tVNS facilitates hippocampus-mediated consolidation processes.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01276DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7363946PMC
July 2020

Promoting long-term inhibition of human fear responses by non-invasive transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation during extinction training.

Sci Rep 2020 01 30;10(1):1529. Epub 2020 Jan 30.

University of Greifswald, Department of Physiological and Clinical Psychology/Psychotherapy, Franz-Mehring-Strasse 47, 17487, Greifswald, Germany.

Inhibiting fear-related thoughts and defensive behaviors when they are no longer appropriate to the situation is a prerequisite for flexible and adaptive responding to changing environments. Such inhibition of defensive systems is mediated by ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), limbic basolateral amygdala (BLA), and brain stem locus-coeruleus noradrenergic system (LC-NAs). Non-invasive, transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS) has shown to activate this circuit. Using a multiple-day single-cue fear conditioning and extinction paradigm, we investigated long-term effects of tVNS on inhibition of low-level amygdala modulated fear potentiated startle and cognitive risk assessments. We found that administration of tVNS during extinction training facilitated inhibition of fear potentiated startle responses and cognitive risk assessments, resulting in facilitated formation, consolidation and long-term recall of extinction memory, and prevention of the return of fear. These findings might indicate new ways to increase the efficacy of exposure-based treatments of anxiety disorders.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-58412-wDOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6992620PMC
January 2020

The impact of focused attention on subsequent emotional recollection: A functional MRI investigation.

Neuropsychologia 2020 02 8;138:107338. Epub 2020 Jan 8.

Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA; Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL, USA. Electronic address:

In his seminal works, Endel Tulving argued that functionally distinct memory systems give rise to subjective experiences of remembering and knowing (i.e., recollection- vs. familiarity-based memory, respectively). Evidence shows that emotion specifically enhances recollection, and this effect is subserved by a synergistic mechanism involving the amygdala (AMY) and hippocampus (HC). In extreme circumstances, however, uncontrolled recollection of highly distressing memories may lead to symptoms of affective disorders. Therefore, it is important to understand the factors that can diminish such detrimental effects. Here, we investigated the effects of Focused Attention (FA) on emotional recollection. FA is an emotion regulation strategy that has been proven quite effective in reducing the impact of emotional responses associated with the recollection of distressing autobiographical memories, but its impact during emotional memory encoding is not known. Functional MRI and eye-tracking data were recorded while participants viewed a series of composite negative and neutral images with distinguishable foreground (FG) and background (BG) areas. Participants were instructed to focus either on the FG or BG content of the images and to rate their emotional responses. About 4 days later, participants' memory was assessed using the R/K procedure, to indicate whether they Recollected specific contextual details about the encoded images or the images were just familiar to them - i.e., participants only Knew that they saw the pictures without being able to remember specific contextual details. First, results revealed that FA was successful in decreasing memory for emotional pictures viewed in BG Focus condition, and this effect was driven by recollection-based retrieval. Second, the BG Focus condition was associated with decreased activity in the AMY, HC, and anterior parahippocampal gyrus for subsequently recollected emotional items. Moreover, correlation analyses also showed that reduced activity in these regions predicted greater reduction in emotional recollection following FA. These results demonstrate the effectiveness of FA in mitigating emotional experiences and emotional recollection associated with unpleasant emotional events.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2020.107338DOI Listing
February 2020

Behavioral and neural evidence of enhanced long-term memory for untrustworthy faces.

Sci Rep 2019 12 16;9(1):19217. Epub 2019 Dec 16.

Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology, University of Greifswald, Greifswald, Germany.

In daily life, we automatically form impressions of other individuals on basis of subtle facial features that convey trustworthiness. Because these face-based judgements influence current and future social interactions, we investigated how perceived trustworthiness of faces affects long-term memory using event-related potentials (ERPs). In the current study, participants incidentally viewed 60 neutral faces differing in trustworthiness, and one week later, performed a surprise recognition memory task, in which the same old faces were presented intermixed with novel ones. We found that after one week untrustworthy faces were better recognized than trustworthy faces and that untrustworthy faces prompted early (350-550 ms) enhanced frontal ERP old/new differences (larger positivity for correctly remembered old faces, compared to novel ones) during recognition. Our findings point toward an enhanced long-lasting, likely familiarity-based, memory for untrustworthy faces. Even when trust judgments about a person do not necessarily need to be accurate, a fast access to memories predicting potential harm may be important to guide social behaviour in daily life.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-55705-7DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6915708PMC
December 2019

Neural correlates of emotion-attention interactions: From perception, learning, and memory to social cognition, individual differences, and training interventions.

Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2020 01 22;108:559-601. Epub 2019 Aug 22.

Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL, USA; Beckman Institute for Advanced Science & Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA. Electronic address:

Due to their ability to capture attention, emotional stimuli tend to benefit from enhanced perceptual processing, which can be helpful when such stimuli are task-relevant but hindering when they are task-irrelevant. Altered emotion-attention interactions have been associated with symptoms of affective disturbances, and emerging research focuses on improving emotion-attention interactions to prevent or treat affective disorders. In line with the Human Affectome Project's emphasis on linguistic components, we also analyzed the language used to describe attention-related aspects of emotion, and highlighted terms related to domains such as conscious awareness, motivational effects of attention, social attention, and emotion regulation. These terms were discussed within a broader review of available evidence regarding the neural correlates of (1) Emotion-Attention Interactions in Perception, (2) Emotion-Attention Interactions in Learning and Memory, (3) Individual Differences in Emotion-Attention Interactions, and (4) Training and Interventions to Optimize Emotion-Attention Interactions. This comprehensive approach enabled an integrative overview of the current knowledge regarding the mechanisms of emotion-attention interactions at multiple levels of analysis, and identification of emerging directions for future investigations.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.08.017DOI Listing
January 2020

Enhanced spontaneous retrieval of cues from emotional events: An ERP study.

Biol Psychol 2019 11 20;148:107742. Epub 2019 Aug 20.

Department of Psychology, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany. Electronic address:

Recent evidence points to enhanced episodic memory retrieval not only for emotional items but also for neutral information encoded in emotional contexts. However, prior research only tested instructed explicit recognition, and hence here we investigated whether memory retrieval is also heightened for cues from emotional contexts when retrieval is not explicitly probed. During the first session of a two-session experiment, neutral objects were presented on different background scenes varying in emotional and neutral contents. One week later, objects were presented again (with no background) intermixed with novel objects. In both sessions, participants were instructed to attentively watch the stimuli (free viewing procedure), and during the second session, ERPs were also collected to measure the ERP Old/New effect, an electrophysiological correlate of episodic memory retrieval. Analyses were performed using cluster-based permutation tests in order to identify reliable spatio-temporal ERP differences. Based on this approach, old relative to new objects, were associated with larger ERP positivity in an early (364-744 ms) and late time window (760-1148 ms) over distinct central electrode clusters. Interestingly, significant late ERP Old/New differences were only observed for objects previously encoded with emotional, but not neutral scenes (504 to 1144 ms). Because these ERP differences were observed in a non-instructed retrieval context, our results indicate that long-term, spontaneous retrieval for neutral objects, is particularly heightened if encoded within emotionally salient contextual information. These findings may assist in understanding mechanisms underlying spontaneous retrieval of emotional associates and the utility of ERPs to study maladaptive involuntary memories in trauma- and stress-related disorders.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2019.107742DOI Listing
November 2019

Chronic stress and emotion: Differential effects on attentional processing and recognition memory.

Psychoneuroendocrinology 2019 09 10;107:93-97. Epub 2019 May 10.

Department of Psychology, University of Potsdam, Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 24/25, 14476, Potsdam, Germany.

Previous research indicates that acute stress around the time of learning facilitates attention and memory for emotionally salient information. Despite accumulating evidence for these acute stress effects, less is known about the role of chronic stress. In the present study, we therefore tested emotional and neutral scene processing and later recognition memory in female participants using hair cortisol concentrations as a biological marker for chronic stress. Event-related potentials recorded during picture viewing indicated enhanced late positive potentials (LPPs) for emotional, relative to neutral contents. These brain potentials varied as a function of long-term hair cortisol levels: hair-cortisol levels were positively related to overall LPP amplitudes. Results from recognition memory testing one week after encoding revealed better memory for emotional relative to neutral scenes. Hair-cortisol levels, however, were related to poorer memory accuracy. Taken together, our results indicate that chronic stress enhanced attentional processing during encoding of new stimuli and impaired later recognition memory. Results are discussed with regard to putatively opposite effects of chronic stress on certain brain regions (e.g., amygdala and hippocampus).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2019.05.008DOI Listing
September 2019

Oral Contraceptives Impair Complex Emotion Recognition in Healthy Women.

Front Neurosci 2018 11;12:1041. Epub 2019 Feb 11.

Department of Psychology, University of Greifswald, Greifswald, Germany.

Despite the widespread use of oral contraceptives (OCs), remarkably little is known about the effects of OCs on emotion, cognition, and behavior. However, coincidental findings suggest that OCs impair the ability to recognize others' emotional expressions, which may have serious consequences in interpersonal contexts. To further investigate the effects of OCs on emotion recognition, we tested whether women who were using OCs ( = 42) would be less accurate in the recognition of complex emotional expressions than women who were not using OCs ( = 53). In addition, we explored whether these differences in emotion recognition would depend on women's menstrual cycle phase. We found that women with OC use were indeed less accurate in the recognition of complex expressions than women without OC use, in particular during the processing of expressions that were difficult to recognize. These differences in emotion recognition did not depend on women's menstrual cycle phase. Our findings, thus, suggest that OCs impair women's emotion recognition, which should be taken into account when informing women about the side-effects of OC use.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.01041DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6378414PMC
February 2019

The Startle-Evoked Potential: Negative Affect and Severity of Pathology in Anxiety/Mood Disorders.

Biol Psychiatry Cogn Neurosci Neuroimaging 2018 07 8;3(7):626-634. Epub 2017 Aug 8.

Center for the Study of Emotion and Attention, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

Background: The National Institute of Mental Health Research Domain Criteria initiative encourages a search for dimensional biological measures of psychopathology unconstrained by current diagnostic categories. Consistent with this aim, the presented research studies a large sample of anxiety and mood disorder patients, assessing differences in principal diagnoses and comorbidity patterns, clinicians' ratings, and questionnaire measures of negative affect and life dysfunction as they relate to a potential brain marker of pathology: the amplitude of the event-related potential (ERP) elicited by a startle-evoking stimulus.

Methods: Patients seeking evaluation or treatment for anxiety and mood disorders (N = 208) participated in two tasks at the University of Florida (Gainesville, FL): 1) imagining emotional and neutral events and 2) viewing emotional and neutral pictures while acoustic startle probes were presented and the ERP was recorded. For a comparison patient group (N = 120), startle probes were administered and ERPs recorded at the University of Greifswald (Greifswald, Germany) while performing the same imagery task.

Results: Reduced positive amplitude of a centroparietal startle-evoked ERP (156-352 ms after onset) significantly predicted higher questionnaire scores of anxiety/depression, reports of increased life dysfunction, greater comorbidity, and clinician ratings of heightened severity and poorer prognosis. The effect was general across principal diagnoses, found for both the Florida and German samples, and consistent in pattern despite differences in the tasks administered.

Conclusions: The startle-evoked ERP reliably predicts severity and breadth of psychopathology, independent of task context. It is a potential significant contributor to a needed array of biological measures that might improve classification of anxiety and mood disorders.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bpsc.2017.07.006DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6063515PMC
July 2018

Effects of Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulation (tVNS) on the P300 and Alpha-Amylase Level: A Pilot Study.

Front Hum Neurosci 2018 21;12:202. Epub 2018 Jun 21.

Department of Psychology, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany.

Recent research suggests that the P3b may be closely related to the activation of the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine (LC-NE) system. To further study the potential association, we applied a novel technique, the non-invasive transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS), which is speculated to increase noradrenaline levels. Using a within-subject cross-over design, 20 healthy participants received continuous tVNS and sham stimulation on two consecutive days (stimulation counterbalanced across participants) while performing a visual oddball task. During stimulation, oval non-targets (standard), normal-head (easy) and rotated-head (difficult) targets, as well as novel stimuli (scenes) were presented. As an indirect marker of noradrenergic activation we also collected salivary alpha-amylase (sAA) before and after stimulation. Results showed larger P3b amplitudes for target, relative to standard stimuli, irrespective of stimulation condition. Exploratory analyses, however, revealed that, in comparison to standard stimuli, easy (but not difficult) targets produced larger P3b (but not P3a) amplitudes during active tVNS, compared to sham stimulation. For sAA levels, although main analyses did not show differential effects of stimulation, direct testing revealed that tVNS (but not sham stimulation) increased sAA levels after stimulation. Additionally, larger differences between tVNS and sham stimulation in P3b magnitudes for easy targets were associated with larger increase in sAA levels after tVNS, but not after sham stimulation. Despite preliminary evidence for a modulatory influence of tVNS on the P3b, which may be partly mediated by activation of the noradrenergic system, additional research in this field is clearly warranted. Future studies need to clarify whether tVNS also facilitates other processes, such as learning and memory, and whether tVNS can be used as therapeutic tool.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00202DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6021745PMC
June 2018

Neural activation and memory for natural scenes: Explicit and spontaneous retrieval.

Psychophysiology 2018 10 6;55(10):e13197. Epub 2018 May 6.

Center for the Study of Emotion and Attention, University of Florida, Gainsville, Florida, USA.

Stimulus repetition elicits either enhancement or suppression in neural activity, and a recent fMRI meta-analysis of repetition effects for visual stimuli (Kim, 2017) reported cross-stimulus repetition enhancement in medial and lateral parietal cortex, as well as regions of prefrontal, temporal, and posterior cingulate cortex. Repetition enhancement was assessed here for repeated and novel scenes presented in the context of either an explicit episodic recognition task or an implicit judgment task, in order to study the role of spontaneous retrieval of episodic memories. Regardless of whether episodic memory was explicitly probed or not, repetition enhancement was found in medial posterior parietal (precuneus/cuneus), lateral parietal cortex (angular gyrus), as well as in medial prefrontal cortex (frontopolar), which did not differ by task. Enhancement effects in the posterior cingulate cortex were significantly larger during explicit compared to implicit task, primarily due to a lack of functional activity for new scenes. Taken together, the data are consistent with an interpretation that medial and (ventral) lateral parietal cortex are associated with spontaneous episodic retrieval, whereas posterior cingulate cortical regions may reflect task or decision processes.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13197DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6150795PMC
October 2018

Transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS) enhances conflict-triggered adjustment of cognitive control.

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 2018 08;18(4):680-693

Department of Psychology, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany.

Response conflicts play a prominent role in the flexible adaptation of behavior as they represent context-signals that indicate the necessity for the recruitment of cognitive control. Previous studies have highlighted the functional roles of the affectively aversive and arousing quality of the conflict signal in triggering the adaptation process. To further test this potential link with arousal, participants performed a response conflict task in two separate sessions with either transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS), which is assumed to activate the locus coeruleus-noradrenaline (LC-NE) system, or with neutral sham stimulation. In both sessions the N2 and P3 event-related potentials (ERP) were assessed. In line with previous findings, conflict interference, the N2 and P3 amplitude were reduced after conflict. Most importantly, this adaptation to conflict was enhanced under tVNS compared to sham stimulation for conflict interference and the N2 amplitude. No effect of tVNS on the P3 component was found. These findings suggest that tVNS increases behavioral and electrophysiological markers of adaptation to conflict. Results are discussed in the context of the potentially underlying LC-NE and other neuromodulatory (e.g., GABA) systems. The present findings add important pieces to the understanding of the neurophysiological mechanisms of conflict-triggered adjustment of cognitive control.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3758/s13415-018-0596-2DOI Listing
August 2018

Heartfelt memories: Cardiac vagal tone correlates with increased memory for untrustworthy faces.

Emotion 2019 Feb 19;19(1):178-182. Epub 2018 Mar 19.

Department of Psychology, University of Greifswald.

During social interactions, we rapidly judge others' trustworthiness on basis of their facial characteristics. Face-based trustworthiness judgments may not only affect our current but also our future interactions because we seem to be more inclined to remember untrustworthy than trustworthy faces. Memory formation of salient stimuli like untrustworthy faces may be modulated by the interplay between the autonomic and central nervous system, which can be indexed by changes in vagally mediated heart rate variability (HRV). To test this assumption, we investigated whether differences in HRV would be associated with differences in memory formation of untrustworthy faces in a sample of healthy participants (n = 34, all female). Untrustworthy faces were remembered more accurately than trustworthy faces, albeit only by participants with high and not low HRV. Across participants, increased memory accuracy for untrustworthy faces was associated with increased HRV. We discuss these findings in the context of neurobiological theories regarding the interplay between the autonomic and central nervous system during the regulation of autonomic, emotional and cognitive processes. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000396DOI Listing
February 2019

Event-related potentials of emotional and neutral memories: The role of encoding position and delayed testing.

Psychophysiology 2018 07 19;55(7):e13069. Epub 2018 Feb 19.

Department of Psychology, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany.

Previous research found that memory is not only better for emotional information but also for neutral information that has been encoded in the context of an emotional event. In the present ERP study, we investigated two factors that may influence memory for neutral and emotional items: temporal proximity between emotional and neutral items during encoding, and retention interval (immediate vs. delayed). Forty-nine female participants incidentally encoded 36 unpleasant and 108 neutral pictures (36 neutral pictures preceded an unpleasant picture, 36 followed an unpleasant picture, and 36 neutral pictures were preceded and followed by neutral pictures) and participated in a recognition memory task either immediately (N = 24) or 1 week (N = 25) after encoding. Results showed better memory for emotional pictures relative to neutral pictures. In accordance, enhanced centroparietal old/new differences (500-900 ms) during recognition were observed for unpleasant compared to neutral pictures, most pronounced for the 1-week interval. Picture position effects, however, were only subtle. During encoding, late positive potentials for neutral pictures were slightly lower for neutral pictures following unpleasant ones, but only at trend level. To summarize, we could replicate and extend previous ERP findings showing that emotionally arousing events are better recollected than neutral events, particularly when memory is tested after longer retention intervals. Picture position during encoding, however, had only small effects on elaborative processing and no effects on memory retrieval.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13069DOI Listing
July 2018

Neurophysiological correlates of attentional bias for emotional faces in socially anxious individuals - Evidence from a visual search task and N2pc.

Biol Psychol 2018 02 4;132:192-201. Epub 2018 Jan 4.

University of Potsdam, Department of Psychology, Potsdam, Germany.

Visual search paradigms have provided evidence for the enhanced capture of attention by threatening faces. Especially in social anxiety, hypervigilance for threatening faces has been found repeatedly across behavioral paradigms, whose reliability however have been questioned recently. In this EEG study, we sought to determine whether the detection of threat (angry faces) is specifically enhanced in individuals with high (HSA) compared to low social anxiety (LSA). In a visual search paradigm, the N2pc component of the event-related brain potential was measured as an electrophysiological indicator of attentional selection. Twenty-one HSA and twenty-one LSA participants were investigated while searching for threatening or friendly targets within an array of neutral faces, or neutral targets within threatening or friendly distractors. Whereas no differences were found in reaction times, HSA showed significant higher detection rates for angry faces, whereas LSA showed a clear 'happiness bias'. HSA also showed enhanced N2pc amplitudes in response to emotional facial expressions (angry and happy), indicating a general attentional bias for emotional faces. Overall, the results show that social anxiety may be characterized not only by a spatial attentional bias for threatening faces, but for emotional faces in general. In addition, the results further demonstrate the utility of the N2pc component in capturing subtle attentional biases.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2018.01.004DOI Listing
February 2018

Emerging Directions in Emotional Episodic Memory.

Front Psychol 2017 4;8:1867. Epub 2017 Dec 4.

Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL, United States.

Building upon the existing literature on emotional memory, the present review examines emerging evidence from brain imaging investigations regarding four research directions: , , , and (4) . Across these four domains, available evidence demonstrates that emotion- and memory-related medial temporal lobe brain regions (amygdala and hippocampus, respectively), together with prefrontal cortical regions, play a pivotal role during both encoding and retrieval of emotional episodic memories. This evidence sheds light on the neural mechanisms of emotional memories in healthy functioning, and has important implications for understanding clinical conditions that are associated with negative affective biases in encoding and retrieving emotional memories.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01867DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5723010PMC
December 2017

Item and source memory for emotional associates is mediated by different retrieval processes.

Neuropsychologia 2020 08 12;145:106606. Epub 2017 Dec 12.

Department of Psychology, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany. Electronic address:

Recent event-related potential (ERP) data showed that neutral objects encoded in emotional background pictures were better remembered than objects encoded in neutral contexts, when recognition memory was tested one week later. In the present study, we investigated whether this long-term memory advantage for items is also associated with correct memory for contextual source details. Furthermore, we were interested in the possibly dissociable contribution of familiarity and recollection processes (using a Remember/Know procedure). The results revealed that item memory performance was mainly driven by the subjective experience of familiarity, irrespective of whether the objects were previously encoded in emotional or neutral contexts. Correct source memory for the associated background picture, however, was driven by recollection and enhanced when the content was emotional. In ERPs, correctly recognized old objects evoked frontal ERP Old/New effects (300-500 ms), irrespective of context category. As in our previous study (Ventura-Bort et al., 2016b), retrieval for objects from emotional contexts was associated with larger parietal Old/New differences (600-800 ms), indicating stronger involvement of recollection. Thus, the results suggest a stronger contribution of recollection-based retrieval to item and contextual background source memory for neutral information associated with an emotional event.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.12.015DOI Listing
August 2020

Active avoidance and attentive freezing in the face of approaching threat.

Neuroimage 2017 09 29;158:196-204. Epub 2017 Jun 29.

Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology, University of Greifswald, 17487 Greifswald, Germany.

Defensive behaviors in animals and humans vary dynamically with increasing proximity of a threat and depending upon the behavioral repertoire at hand. The current study investigated physiological and behavioral adjustments and associated brain activation when participants were exposed to dynamically approaching threat that was either inevitable or could be avoided by motor action. When the approaching threat was inevitable, attentive freezing was observed as indicated by fear bradycardia, startle potentiation, and a dynamic increase in activation of the anterior insula and the periaqueductal grey. In preparation for active avoidance a switch in defensive behavior was observed characterized by startle inhibition and heart rate acceleration along with potentiated activation of the amygdala and the periaqueductal grey. Importantly, the modulation of defensive behavior according to threat imminence and the behavioral option at hand was associated with activity changes in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. These findings improve our understanding of brain mechanisms guiding human behavior during approaching threat depending on available resources.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.06.054DOI Listing
September 2017

Enhanced processing of untrustworthiness in natural faces with neutral expressions.

Emotion 2018 03 27;18(2):181-189. Epub 2017 Apr 27.

Department of Psychology, University of Potsdam.

During social interactions, individuals rapidly and automatically judge others' trustworthiness on the basis of subtle facial cues. To investigate the behavioral and neural correlates of these judgments, we conducted 2 studies: 1 study for the construction and evaluation of a set of natural faces differing in trustworthiness (Study 1: n = 30) and another study for the investigation of event-related potentials (ERPs) in response to this set of natural faces (Study 2: n = 30). Participants of both studies provided highly reliable and nearly identical trustworthiness ratings for the selected faces, supporting the notion that the discrimination of trustworthy and untrustworthy faces depends on distinct facial cues. These cues appear to be processed in an automatic and bottom-up-driven fashion because the free viewing of these faces was sufficient to elicit trustworthiness-related differences in late positive potentials (LPPs) as indicated by larger amplitudes to untrustworthy as compared with trustworthy faces. Taken together, these findings suggest that natural faces contain distinct cues that are automatically and rapidly processed to facilitate the discrimination of untrustworthy and trustworthy faces across various contexts, presumably by enhancing the elaborative processing of untrustworthy as compared with trustworthy faces. (PsycINFO Database Record
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000318DOI Listing
March 2018

Cognitive functioning and emotion processing in breast cancer survivors and controls: An ERP pilot study.

Psychophysiology 2017 Aug 22;54(8):1209-1222. Epub 2017 Apr 22.

Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology, University of Greifswald, Greifswald, Germany.

Diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer is a very emotionally aversive and stressful life event, which can lead to impaired cognitive functioning and mental health. Breast cancer survivors responding with repressive emotion regulation strategies often show less adaptive coping and adverse outcomes. We investigated cognitive functioning and neural correlates of emotion processing using ERPs. Self-report measures of depression, anxiety, and fatigue, as well as hair cortisol as an index of chronic stress, were assessed. Twenty breast cancer survivors (BCS) and 31 carefully matched healthy controls participated in the study. After neuropsychological testing and subjective assessments, participants viewed 30 neutral, 30 unpleasant, and 30 pleasant pictures, and ERPs were recorded. Recognition memory was tested 1 week later. BCS reported stronger complaints about cognitive impairments and more symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fatigue. Moreover, they showed elevated hair cortisol levels. Except for verbal memory, cognitive functioning was predominantly in the normative range. Recognition memory performance was decreased in cancer survivors, especially for emotional contents. In ERPs, survivors showed smaller late positive potential amplitudes for unpleasant pictures relative to controls in a later time window, which may indicate less elaborative processing of this material. Taken together, we found cognitive impairments in BCS in verbal memory, impaired emotional picture memory accuracy, and reduced neural activity when breast cancer survivors were confronted with unpleasant materials. Further studies and larger sample sizes, however, are needed to evaluate the relationship between altered emotion processing and reduced memory in BCS in order to develop new treatment strategies.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/psyp.12874DOI Listing
August 2017

A direct comparison of appetitive and aversive anticipation: Overlapping and distinct neural activation.

Behav Brain Res 2017 05 4;326:96-102. Epub 2017 Mar 4.

University of Florida, USA.

fMRI studies of reward find increased neural activity in ventral striatum and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), whereas other regions, including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and anterior insula, are activated when anticipating aversive exposure. Although these data suggest differential activation during anticipation of pleasant or of unpleasant exposure, they also arise in the context of different paradigms (e.g., preparation for reward vs. threat of shock) and participants. To determine overlapping and unique regions active during emotional anticipation, we compared neural activity during anticipation of pleasant or unpleasant exposure in the same participants. Cues signalled the upcoming presentation of erotic/romantic, violent, or everyday pictures while BOLD activity during the 9-s anticipatory period was measured using fMRI. Ventral striatum and a ventral mPFC subregion were activated when anticipating pleasant, but not unpleasant or neutral, pictures, whereas activation in other regions was enhanced when anticipating appetitive or aversive scenes.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2017.03.005DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5428542PMC
May 2017

Acquisition and inhibition of conditioned fear is modulated by individual stimulus fear-relevance.

Neurobiol Learn Mem 2017 Jan 27;137:114-122. Epub 2016 Nov 27.

Department of Psychology, University of Greifswald, Germany.

Inhibitory learning is an important factor for decreasing fear expression. We investigated conditioned inhibition of learned fear responses using conditioned excitors and inhibitors differing in fear-relevance in a sample of 48 healthy female students. To study the effect of stimulus fear-relevance, we used the fear potentiated startle paradigm in an AX+/BX- discrimination learning task with fear-relevant (spider) vs. fear-irrelevant (butterfly) pictures as CS+ (A) and CS- (B), respectively. We found that, during acquisition, participants with elevated fear of spiders showed stronger fear potentiated startle to AX+ compared to BX- when the inhibitor (B) was fear-irrelevant (butterfly) using both median split as well as correlational analyses. In contrast, when the excitor (A) was fear-irrelevant (butterfly), fear potentiated startle to AX+ compared to BX- was reduced for participants with higher fear of spiders. Effects of conditioned inhibition were studied in a summation test, where excitor and inhibitor were presented in compound (AB) and compared to the last four excitor trials during prior acquisition. Conditioned inhibition was stronger for participants with a higher fear of spiders, when the butterfly acted as conditioned inhibitor (B). On the other hand, when the spider served as conditioned inhibitor, effects of conditioned inhibition were weaker for participants with higher fear of spiders. Hence, rather than to a general preparedness our data point to a specific impairment in safety learning for individually fear-relevant stimuli.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nlm.2016.11.015DOI Listing
January 2017

When neutral turns significant: brain dynamics of rapidly formed associations between neutral stimuli and emotional contexts.

Eur J Neurosci 2016 09 26;44(5):2176-83. Epub 2016 Jul 26.

Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology, University of Greifswald, Franz-Mehring-Str. 47, 17487, Greifswald, Germany.

The ability to associate neutral stimuli with motivationally relevant outcomes is an important survival strategy. In this study, we used event-related potentials (ERPs) to investigate brain dynamics of associative emotional learning when participants were confronted with multiple heterogeneous information. Participants viewed 144 different objects in the context of 144 different emotional and neutral background scenes. During each trial, neutral objects were shown in isolation and then paired with the background scene. All pairings were presented twice to compare ERPs in response to neutral objects before and after single association. After single pairing, neutral objects previously encoded in the context of emotional scenes evoked a larger P100 over occipital electrodes compared to objects that were previously paired with neutral scenes. Likewise, larger late positive potentials (LPPs) were observed over parieto-occipital electrodes (450-750 ms) for objects previously associated with emotional relative to neutral contexts. The LPP - but not P100 - enhancement was also related to subjective object/context binding. Taken together, our ERP data provide evidence for fast emotional associative learning, as reflected by heightened perceptual and sustained elaborative processing for neutral information previously encountered in emotional contexts. These findings could assist in understanding binding mechanisms in stress and anxiety, as well as in addiction and eating-related disorders.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ejn.13319DOI Listing
September 2016

Amygdala and Emotion: The Bright Side of It.

Front Neurosci 2016 24;10:224. Epub 2016 May 24.

Department of Cognitive Psychology, University of Hamburg Hamburg, Germany.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2016.00224DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4877499PMC
June 2016

Binding neutral information to emotional contexts: Brain dynamics of long-term recognition memory.

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 2016 Apr;16(2):234-47

Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology, University of Greifswald, Franz-Mehring-Str. 47, 17487, Greifswald, Germany.

There is abundant evidence in memory research that emotional stimuli are better remembered than neutral stimuli. However, effects of an emotionally charged context on memory for associated neutral elements is also important, particularly in trauma and stress-related disorders, where strong memories are often activated by neutral cues due to their emotional associations. In the present study, we used event-related potentials (ERPs) to investigate long-term recognition memory (1-week delay) for neutral objects that had been paired with emotionally arousing or neutral scenes during encoding. Context effects were clearly evident in the ERPs: An early frontal ERP old/new difference (300-500 ms) was enhanced for objects encoded in unpleasant compared to pleasant and neutral contexts; and a late central-parietal old/new difference (400-700 ms) was observed for objects paired with both pleasant and unpleasant contexts but not for items paired with neutral backgrounds. Interestingly, objects encoded in emotional contexts (and novel objects) also prompted an enhanced frontal early (180-220 ms) positivity compared to objects paired with neutral scenes indicating early perceptual significance. The present data suggest that emotional--particularly unpleasant--backgrounds strengthen memory for items encountered within these contexts and engage automatic and explicit recognition processes. These results could help in understanding binding mechanisms involved in the activation of trauma-related memories by neutral cues.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3758/s13415-015-0385-0DOI Listing
April 2016

When Threat Is Near, Get Out of Here: Dynamics of Defensive Behavior During Freezing and Active Avoidance.

Psychol Sci 2015 Nov 25;26(11):1706-16. Epub 2015 Sep 25.

Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology, University of Greifswald.

When detecting a threat, humans and other animals engage in defensive behaviors and supporting physiological adjustments that vary with threat imminence and potential response options. In the present study, we shed light on the dynamics of defensive behaviors and associated physiological adjustments in humans using multiple psychophysiological and brain measures. When participants were exposed to a dynamically approaching, uncontrollable threat, attentive freezing was augmented, as indicated by an increase in skin conductance, fear bradycardia, and potentiation of the startle reflex. In contrast, when participants had the opportunity to actively avoid the approaching threat, attention switched to response preparation, as indicated by an inhibition of the startle magnitude and by a sharp drop of the probe-elicited P3 component of the evoked brain potentials. These new findings on the dynamics of defensive behaviors form an important intersection between animal and human research and have important implications for understanding fear and anxiety-related disorders.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0956797615597332DOI Listing
November 2015