Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 42, Issue 6, pp 920–930 | Cite as

Emotional contrast and psychological function impact response inhibition to threatening faces

  • Taylor R. GreifEmail author
  • Jill D. Waring
Original Paper


Poor inhibitory control over negative emotional information has been identified as a possible contributor to affective disorders, but the distinct effects of emotional contrast and fearful versus angry faces on response inhibition remain unknown. In the present study, young adults completed an emotional go/no-go task involving happy, neutral, and either fearful or angry faces. Results did not reveal differences in accuracy or speed between angry and fearful face conditions. However, responses were slower and indicated poorer inhibition in blocks where threatening faces were paired with happy, versus neutral, faces. Results may reflect cognitive load of emotional valence contrast, such that higher contrast blocks (containing threatening with happy faces) produced more conflict and required more processing than lower contrast blocks (threatening with neutral faces). Preliminary findings also revealed higher anxiety and depression symptoms corresponded with slower responses and worse accuracy, consistent with patterns of adverse impacts of anxiety and depression on response inhibition to threatening faces, even at subclinical levels of symptomatology.


Emotional contrast Response inhibition Emotional go/no-go Executive function Threatening faces 



This research was supported by National Institutes of Health grant AG049075 (JDW) and Saint Louis University. Saint Louis University and Santa Clara University provided facilities and administrative assistance. We thank Allison Cook, Skye Windsor, Kelly Ahern, Manon Masson, Kenzie Dye, Minu Pitchiah, and Michael Hase for assistance with data collection and data entry.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Human and animal rights

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

11031_2018_9709_MOESM1_ESM.docx (25 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 25 KB)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Saint Louis UniversitySt. LouisUSA

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