Inhibitory control in anxious and healthy adolescents is modulated by incentive and incidental affective stimuli

Michael G. Hardin, Darcy Mandell, Sven C. Mueller, Ronald E. Dahl, Daniel S. Pine, Monique Ernst

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Anxiety disorders are characterized by elevated, sustained responses to threat, that manifest as threat attention biases. Recent evidence also suggests exaggerated responses to incentives. How these characteristics influence cognitive control is under debate and is the focus of the present study. Methods: Twenty-five healthy adolescents and 25 adolescents meeting DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder were compared on a task of response inhibition. Inhibitory control was assayed with an antisaccade task that included both incentive (monetary reward) and incidental emotion (facial expression) cues presented prior to the execution of inhibitory behavior. Results: Inhibitory control was enhanced following exposure to threat cues (fear faces) only in adolescent patients, and following exposure to positive cues (happy faces) only in healthy adolescents. Results also revealed a robust performance improvement associated with monetary incentives. This incentive effect did not differ by group. No interaction between incentives and emotional cues was detected. Conclusions: These findings suggest that biased processing of threat in anxious adolescents affects inhibitory control, perhaps by raising arousal prior to behavioral performance. The absence of normalization of performance in anxious adolescents following exposure to positive emotional cues is a novel finding and will require additional exploration. Future studies will need to more specifically examine how perturbations in positive emotion processes contribute to the symptomatology and the pathogenesis of anxiety disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1550-1558
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Affective context
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Cognitive control
  • Emotion
  • Facial expressions
  • Motivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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