The effect of executive control training on emotional distraction during conflict resolution: a pupillometry study

Thesis Type: Doctorate

Institution Of The Thesis: Middle East Technical University, Turkey

Approval Date: 2020

Student: Şeyma Koç Yılmaz



Task-irrelevant emotion distracts executive processing on the one hand and executive control suppresses emotional processing on the other. This reciprocal cognitionemotion link underlies emotion regulation, which is critical for mental health. The present dissertation investigated the intricate relationship between cognitive load and emotional distraction, using non-emotional executive control training and taking mood-related effects into account. Two groups of participants were either trained on a high-load conflict resolution task or completed a low-load simple identification task. Both groups then completed an intermediate-load conflict resolution task with (Experiment 1) and without (Experiment 2) distracters. Distracter pictures were manipulated considering both valence and arousal dimensions. During training session and subsequent experiments, participants' accuracy scores, reaction times, and pupil diameters were recorded. At the behavioral level, the results of Experiment 1 revealed impaired performance in the presence of all task-irrelevant emotional pictures irrespective of cognitive load and training paradigm. Furthermore, after adjusting for state anxiety levels, cognitive load and training interacted with emotional distraction. At the physiological level, the effects of executive training were observed exclusively for negative arousing distracters, for which executive training reduced pupillary responses. Importantly, sustained effects of training were observed in Experiment 2; training reversed the association between behavioral and physiological responses and depression and anxiety levels. Together, the findings of the present study have important implications for emotion regulation and treatment of mental disorders by demonstrating the modulation of emotional distraction and mood-related behavioral and physiological responses by single-session nonemotional executive control training.