Characterizing the anomalous cognition–emotion interactions in externalizing


Externalizing traits are characterized by exaggerated emotional (e.g., frustration, anger) and behavioral
(e.g., drug seeking, reactive aggression) reactions to motivationally significant stimuli. Explanations for
this exaggerated reactivity emphasize attention, executive function, and affective processes, but the
associations among these processes are rarely investigated. To examine these interactions, we measure
fear potentiated startle (FPS; Experiment 1) and neural activation (Experiment 2) in an instructed fear
paradigm that manipulates attentional focus, demands on executive functioning, and emotion. In both
studies, exaggerated emotional reactivity associated with externalizing was specific to conditions that
focused attention on threat information and placed minimal demands on executive functioning. Results
suggest that a crucial cognition–emotion interaction affecting externalizing is the over-prioritization
and over-allocation of attention to motivationally significant information, which in turn, may impair
executive functions and affective regulation.


Arielle R. Baskin-Sommers
John J. Curtin
Christine L Larson
Daniel Stout
Kent A. Kiehl
Joseph P. Newman