Threat distractor and perceptual load modulate test-retest reliability of anterior cingulate cortex response

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Abstract

Accumulating data from fMRI studies implicate the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) in inhibition of attention to threat distractors that compete with task-relevant goals for processing resources. However, little data is available on the reliability of rACC activation. Our aim in the current study was to examine test-retest reliability of rACC activation over a 12-week period, in the context of a validated emotional interference paradigm that varied in perceptual load. During functional MRI, 23 healthy volunteers completed a task involving a target letter in a string of identical letters (low load) or in a string of mixed letters (high load) superimposed on angry, fearful, and neutral face distractors. Intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs) indicated that under low, but not high perceptual load, rACC activation to fearful vs. neutral distractors was moderately reliable. Conversely, regardless of perceptual load, rACC activation to angry vs. neutral distractors was not reliable. Regarding behavioral performance, ICCs indicated that accuracy was not reliable regardless of distractor type or perceptual load. Although reaction time (RT) was similarly not reliable regardless of distractor type under low perceptual load, RT to angry vs. neutral distractors and to fearful vs. neutral distractors was reliable under high perceptual load. Together, results indicate the test-retest reliability of rACC activation and corresponding behavioral performance are context dependent; reliability of the former varies as a function of distractor type and level of cognitive demand, whereas reliability of the latter depends on behavioral index (accuracy vs. RT) and level of cognitive demand but not distractor type.

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