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The Interplay of Cognition and Emotion: Does Incidental Cognitive Processing Influence Subsequent Emotional Responding?
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A series of four experiments tested the effects of performing executive functioning tasks on subsequent emotional responses. Inspired by dual process theories of mind I hypothesized that performing an incidental executive functioning task would diminish subsequent negative emotional responding. Study 1 (N = 47) examined the effects of a working-memory task on subsequent self-reported emotions to emotional videos and found engaging in a prior cognitive task reduced subsequent negative emotional reactions. Study 2 (N = 89) and Study 3 (N = 214) examined the effects of engaging in a cognitive control task (i.e., a flanker task) on subsequent self-reported emotions to images, and found engaging in a prior cognitive task reduced subsequent negative emotional reactions especially after controlling for trait anxiety. Study 4 (N = 171) was similar to the design of Study 3 but incorporated electroencephalography (EEG) to assess both self-reported and neural indices of emotional responding and found no effect of completing a flanker task before viewing emotional images on self-reported emotions. However, contrary to expectations, a neural indicator of attention to and processing of images known as the late positive potential (LPP) was enhanced during negative images after completing the flanker task. Further analyses revealed an interaction between self-reported arousal during negative pictures and condition to predict later LPP amplitudes such that completing the flanker task first disrupted the usual positive relationship between LPP amplitudes and arousal, suggesting that completing the flanker task first changed later attention to and processing of negative stimuli. Implications for dual-process theories of cognition and emotion regulation are discussed.
Finley, Anna Jean (2019). The Interplay of Cognition and Emotion: Does Incidental Cognitive Processing Influence Subsequent Emotional Responding?. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from