A neurocognitive account of attentional control theory: how does trait anxiety affect the brain’s attentional networks?

Cognition and Emotion 37 (2):220-237 (2023)
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Attentional control theory (ACT) was proposed to account for trait anxiety’s effects on cognitive performance. According to ACT, impaired processing efficiency in high anxiety is mediated through inefficient executive processes that are needed for effective attentional control. Here we review the central assumptions and predictions of ACT within the context of more recent empirical evidence from neuroimaging studies. We then attempt to provide an account of ACT within a framework of the relevant cognitive processes and their associated neural mechanisms and networks, particularly the fronto-parietal, cingular-opercula, and default mode networks. Future research directions, including whether a neuroscience-informed model of ACT can provide a platform for novel neurocognitive intervention for anxiety, are also discussed.



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Michael Eysenck
Royal Holloway University of London

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