Workload-dependent Hemispheric Asymmetries during the Emotion-Cognition Interaction: A Close-to-Naturalistic fNIRS Study


We investigated brain activation patterns of interacting emotional distractions and cognitive processes in a close-to-naturalistic functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) study. Eighteen participants engaged in a monitoring-control task, mimicking common air traffic controller requirements. The scenario entailed experiencing both low and high workload, while concurrently being exposed to emotional speech distractions of positive, negative, and neutral valence. Our investigation identified hemispheric asymmetries in prefrontal cortex (PFC) activity during the presentation of negative and positive emotional speech distractions at different workload levels. Thereby, in particular, activation in the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) seems to play a crucial role. Brain activation patterns revealed a cross-over interaction indicating workload-dependent left hemispheric inhibition processes during negative distractions and high workload. For positive emotional distractions under low workload, we observed left-hemispheric PFC recruitment potentially associated with speech-related processes. Furthermore, we found a workload-independent negativity bias for neutral distractions, showing brain activation patterns similar to those of negative distractions. In conclusion, lateralized hemispheric processing, regulating emotional speech distractions and integrating emotional and cognitive processes, is influenced by workload levels and stimulus characteristics. These findings advance our understanding of the factors modulating hemispheric asymmetries during the processing and inhibition of emotional distractions, as well as the interplay between emotion and cognition. Moreover, they emphasize the significance of exploring emotion-cognition interactions in more naturalistic settings to gain a deeper understanding of their implications in real-world application scenarios (e.g., working and learning environments).

Frontiers in Neuroergonomics, 4
Sabrina Gado
Sabrina Gado
PhD student

My research interests combine psychology with technology.