Anxiety overrides the blocking effects of high perceptual load on amygdala reactivity to threat-related distractors

Brian R. Cornwell, Ruben P. Alvarez, Shmuel Lissek, Raphael Kaplan, Monique Ernst, Christian Grillon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Amygdala reactivity to threat-related distractor stimuli can be abolished in perceptually demanding contexts. Premised on the biological imperative to respond swiftly to threat, we demonstrate, however, that when participants are threatened by shock, greater amygdala responses to fearful compared to neutral distractor faces is preserved under conditions of high attentional demand. Lateral prefrontal cortices also showed selective responding to fearful distractor faces under these conditions, suggesting that threat-related distractor stimuli engaged attentional control mechanisms. We conclude that anxiety elicited by looming threat promotes neurocognitive processes that broaden attention and enhance sensitivity to potential danger cues, even when perceptual systems are taxed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1363-1368
Number of pages6
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes



  • Amygdala
  • Anxiety
  • Attention
  • Fearful faces
  • Perceptual load
  • Prefrontal cortices

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

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