Category: Adult Anxiety - GAD

PS9- #A12 - Influence of Autonomic Flexibility and State Anxiety on Error-Related Negativity

Saturday, Nov 18
9:45 AM – 10:45 AM
Location: Indigo Ballroom CDGH, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Anxiety | Worry | Psychophysiology

Cognitive theories suggest that excessive and uncontrollable worry loads cognitive resources resulting in impaired processing efficiency. It is posited that this affects several downstream processes, such as the detection of threat and error monitoring. Indeed, the relationship between high worry and increased error-related negativity (ERN) is well established. The ERN is an event-related potential (ERP) which occurs after an erroneous behavioral response and is implicated in conflict monitoring. Researchers have begun to explicate the relationship between ERN and worry (Moser et al., 2013; Hajcak, 2012). However, the extent that this ERP is affected by both state worry and physiological signs of anxiety is not well understood. Because increased ERN among worries is associated with decreased ability to utilize cognitive control mechanisms, understanding the factors that predict error monitoring is important. Therefore, the current study used respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), a physiological indicator of autonomic flexibility, as well as a state manipulation of anxiety to evaluate which factors affect ERN amplitude among high and low worriers.


The current study included a sample of 27 females. Data collection is ongoing and will be finished by mid-April. Participants completed the Penn State Worry Questionnaire followed by a letter Flankers task (Eriksen & Eriksen, 1974) while EEG data were recorded. Our version of the flankers task included trials beginning with either a fixation cross (+) or a cue (×) followed by letter flankers (e.g., NNMNN; MMMMM). In one condition participants were falsely informed that when the cue was presented their “physiological arousal had changed.” The meaning of the cue was counterbalanced across participants.


A 2 Group (High, Low Worry) by 2 Condition (Control, Manipulation) ANOVA was used to assess how state and trait worry affected the ERN. Results showed a significant effect of condition on the ERN, F(1,18) = 10.51, p = .005, but not group, F(1,18) = .624, p = .440. There was no significant interaction. Regression analysis showed that baseline RSA did not predict ERN when participants were naïve to the meaning of the heart rate cue, F(1,25) = 1.92, p = .18, but RSA significantly predicted the ERN on manipulation trials, R2= .18, F(1,26) = 5.54, p = .03, β = 1.31. Although preliminary, results suggest that falsely informing individuals about their body arousal distracts them from task goals. Additionally, autonomic flexibility may affect conflict monitoring under a manipulation of state anxiety. Therefore, these findings suggest both actual physiological arousal, as well as manipulation of attention to one’s anxious sensations, affect higher order cognitive processes necessary for optimal task performance.

Danielle L. Taylor

Graduate Research Assistant
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, Oklahoma

Evan J. White

Graduate Student
Oklahoma State University
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Jacob D. Kraft

Graduate Student
Oklahoma State University

Kristen E. Frosio

Oklahoma State University

DeMond M. Grant

Oklahoma State University