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Project: Anxiety as gatekeeper in the access to negative affect during early error detection: an experimental approach

01/01/14 – 31/12/17

Error detection is an utmost important cognitive control function, enabling us to learn new contingencies, as well as adjust our behavior appropriately. Whereas this process is seen as rather fast and automatic, it is also substantially influenced by core affective factors, including anxiety. Typically, this internalizing disorder boosts early error monitoring brain effects, even though the functional meaning of these overactive error monitoring effects remains largely underspecified at this stage. An intriguing possibility is that anxiety would primarily lead to an automatic attention spillover effect towards these deviant and adverse events, given that response errors convey an intrinsic negative emotional value, which is compatible or conducive with the current affective state of high anxious participants. The goal of our project is to test this assumption, using an innovative experimental approach devised to shield error monitoring brain processes from the putative enhanced attention control effects (towards response errors) exerted by anxiety. Error detection brain activity will be measured and systematically compared using electrical (EEG) brain-imaging methods, while pre-selected low vs. high anxious participants will perform a standard go/nogo task (suited to unlock unwanted response errors) under varying experimental conditions taxing attention control processes to different degrees.