This article is part of the Research Topic The neurobiology of emotion-cognition interactions

Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 05 February 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00024

Prefrontal control of attention to threat

  • 1MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, UK
  • 2Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  • 3School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK

Attentional control refers to the regulatory processes that ensure that our actions are in accordance with our goals. Dual-system accounts view temperament as consisting of both individual variation in emotionality (e.g., trait anxiety) and variation in regulatory attentional mechanisms that act to modulate emotionality. Increasing evidence links trait variation in attentional control to clinical mood and anxiety disorder symptoms, independent of trait emotionality. Attentional biases to threat have been robustly linked to mood and anxiety disorders. However, the role of variation in attentional control in influencing such biases, and the neural underpinnings of trait variation in attentional control, are unknown. Here, we show that individual differences in trait attentional control, even when accounting for trait and state anxiety, are related to the magnitude of an attentional blink (AB) following threat-related targets. Moreover, we demonstrate that activity in dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), is observed specifically in relation to control of attention over threatening stimuli, in line with neural theories of attentional control, such as guided activation theory. These results have key implications for neurocognitive theories of attentional bias and emotional resilience.

Keywords: anxiety, attentional blink, biased competition, cognitive control, emotion, facial expression, fMRI, prefrontal cortex

Citation: Peers PV, Simons JS and Lawrence AD (2013) Prefrontal control of attention to threat. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 7:24. doi: 10.3389/fnhum. 2013.00024

Received: 24 October 2012; Accepted: 18 January 2013;
Published online: 05 February 2013.

Edited by:

Luiz Pessoa, University of Maryland, USA

Reviewed by:

Ruthger Righart, Institute for Stroke and Dementia Research, Germany
Daphne J. Holt, Harvard University, USA

Copyright © 2013 Peers, Simons and Lawrence. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Polly V. Peers, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, 15 Chaucer Road, Cambridge CB2 7EF, UK. e-mail:

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