Sending mixed signals: worry is associated with enhanced initial error processing but reduced call for subsequent cognitive control


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Abstract

Worry is reliably associated with overactive action-monitoring processes as measured by the error-related negativity (ERN). However, worry is not associated with error-related behavioral adjustments which are typically used to infer increased cognitive control following errors. We hypothesized that this disconnect between overactive action monitoring and unimproved post-error adjustments in worriers is the result of reduced functional integration between medial and lateral prefrontal regions during generation of the ERN, understood to have an important role in mediating controlled processing. To test this, we examined ERN amplitude and interchannel phase synchrony extracted from scalp-recorded electroencephalographic data during error processing in 77 undergraduates who performed a Flankers task. Correlational and path analytic results demonstrated that worry was related to both an enlarged ERN and reduced phase synchrony. Although not directly related to post-error behavioral adjustments, results also revealed that worry was indirectly related to poor post-error adjustments through its association with reduced phase synchrony. Therefore, worry seems to affect multiple components of the action-monitoring system. It is related not just with the initial response to the error, but also with the transmission of information between networks involved in cognitive control processes.

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