How the depth of processing modulates emotional interference – evidence from EEG and pupil diameter data

  • Marie Luise Schreiter
  • Witold X. Chmielewski
  • Moritz Mückschel
  • Tjalf Ziemssen
  • Christian BesteEmail author


The ability to process emotionally conflicting information is an important requirement for emotional self-control. While it seems obvious that the impact of interfering emotional information critically depends on how deeply this interfering information is processed, it is still unknown what cognitive subprocesses are most affected by manipulating the depth of processing of emotionally interfering information. We examine these aspects integrating neurophysiological (EEG) and source localization data with pupil diameter data as an indirect index of the norepinephrine (NE) system activity. We show that when processing depth of interfering emotional stimulus dimensions is increased, emotional Stroop effects become stronger. The EEG data show that this was associated with modulations of decision-making processes, as reflected by the P3 event-related potential. Notably, the integration with pupil diameter data suggests that these decision processes were modulated by the NE system, especially when the depth of processing of interfering emotional stimulus dimensions was increased. This likely reflects gain modulation processes to facilitate processing of complex interfering, emotional information. The source localization results suggest that regions in the parietal (BA7) and insular cortex (BA13) are associated with these modulatory effects. The results suggest that overcoming more complex emotional interference triggers engagement of the norepinephrine system (indexed by pupil diameter) to facilitate action control mechanisms in a time-specific manner when deeper processing of emotional stimulus dimensions is required.


Emotional conflicts EEG Pupil diameter Norepinephrine system Stroop 



This work was partly supported by Grants from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) BE4045/26-1 and the BMBF 01GL1741C.

Compliance with ethical standards

Open practices statement

The data and materials for all experiments are available at The experiment was not preregistered.

Supplementary material

13415_2019_732_MOESM1_ESM.doc (124 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 124 kb)


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marie Luise Schreiter
    • 1
  • Witold X. Chmielewski
    • 1
  • Moritz Mückschel
    • 1
  • Tjalf Ziemssen
    • 2
  • Christian Beste
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Cognitive Neurophysiology, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Faculty of MedicineTechnical University of DresdenDresdenGermany
  2. 2.MS Centre Dresden, Centre of Clinical Neuroscience, Department of Neurology, Faculty of MedicineTechnical University of DresdenDresdenGermany

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