Emotional interference: the impact of task-relevant emotional stimuli on cognitive performance

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Psychology, General


Department of Psychology


Advisor: M. W. Fuhs


Baddeley's model of working memory suggests that there are four components used to manipulate and maintain information for a task. According to this model, there is a system called the central executive which allocates attention resources to the components of working memory. Since attention resources are limited, working memory capacity is limited (Baddeley, 2007; Baddeley, 2012). The limited resources theory suggests that there are limited attention resources and that the addition of each novel event takes resources away from the task at hand generating performance decline on that task (Lichtenstein-Vidne, Henik, & Safad, 2012). Emotion can be seen as an event which would require attention resources, predicting that the presence of emotion in a task would impair performance (Dolcos & McCarthy, 2006, King & Schaefer, 2011; Black, 2008). The current study used an n-back working memory task to compare participants' performance on blocks of stimuli that varied in valence and content. There were blocked trials of three different stimulus content types: faces, nature images, and words, and three different valence types: positive, negative, and neutral. I predicted to find slower reaction times and poorer accuracy for emotionally-charged stimuli, particularly for negative stimuli. Mood was also assessed through the Positive and Negative Affect Scale (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988) to assess if mood interacted with participants' performance. Overall, results indicated an effect of content and valence on working memory performance. The general findings support the hypothesis that emotionally-charged stimuli elicit performance decrement for working memory tasks.


Emotions and cognition Psychological aspects, Human information processing, Attention, Psychology, working memory, emotion, n-back, limited resources theory, central executive, attention

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Copyright © 2015, author