Research Topic

The Impact of Emotion on Cognition – Dissociating between Enhancing and Impairing Effects

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This Research Topic is cross-listed in - Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience

Emotion is a “double-edged sword” that can either enhance or hinder various aspects of our cognition and behavior. For instance, the emotional charge of an event can increase attention to and memory for that event, whereas task-irrelevant emotional information may lead to increased distraction away from goal-relevant tasks. Sometimes, even the same emotionally arousal event can lead to opposite effects on different aspects of cognitive processing. For instance, hearing a gunshot might enhance memory for central aspects of what was happening at the time, while impairing memory for peripheral details. Furthermore, in a larger context of the response to stressful situations, emotional responses associated with optimal levels of stress (eustress) may increase performance (e.g., positive emotions associated with wedding preparations), whereas emotions associated with exposure to extreme levels of stress impair performance (e.g., overwhelming worry in the anticipation of a difficult exam). Finally, these immediate and/or long-term effects of emotion in various circumstances will also influence our decisions to pursue or avoid similar situations in the future.

As illustrated above, these opposing effects of emotion can be identified at different levels of processing, from perception and attention to long-term memory and decision making processes. Notably, these effects are subject to individual differences that may affect the way we perceive, experience, and remember emotional experiences, or cope with emotionally challenging situations. Moreover, these opposing effects tend to co-occur in affective disorders, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, where uncontrolled recollection of and rumination on distressing memories also lead to impaired cognition due to emotional distraction. Another important issue that deserves careful consideration concerns the increased prevalence of risky behaviors in these clinical conditions (e.g., high incidence of pathological gambling, along with higher suicidal rate, in depressed patients). Although during the last few decades important progress has been made in understanding the impact of emotion on cognition, a number of aspects, particularly concerning the neural circuitry underlying these effects, are not clear. Understanding the nature and neural correlates of these effects is critical, as their exacerbation and co-occurrence in clinical conditions lead to devastating effects and debilitation.

This Research Topic aims at discussing emerging evidence that will allow integrative understanding of the mechanisms underlying the impact of emotion on cognition in healthy functioning, as well as alterations associated with clinical conditions in which such interactions are dysfunctional. We will focus on the following two main topics: (1) identification and in depth analysis of the circumstances in which emotion enhances vs. impairs cognition, (2) identification of the role of individual differences in these effects, in both healthy and clinical groups, with a focus on aspects that affect the ability to enhance the positive impact and attenuate the detrimental impact of emotion on cognition. We welcome contributions based on approaches spanning from behavioral and lesion to pharmacological and brain imaging, and welcome empirical, theoretical, and review papers alike. Bringing together such diverse contributions will allow not only integrative understanding of the extant evidence but also identification of concrete venues for future investigations.


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