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The Role of Autonomic Arousal in Anxiety’s Effect on Cognitive Control

Anxiety can impact a host of cognitive functions from learning to attention (Roy, 2013; Bar-Haim et al., 2007). Cognitive control is an important collection of cognitive functions central to goal pursuit, and can vary with psychopathology (Mueller, 2001; Hallion et al., 2017). The impact of anxiety on cognitive function may be particularly pronounced under threatening contexts (Chand & Marwaha, 2023). However, cognitive control performance in threatening contexts, and how it might vary with anxiety, has been sparsely studied. To examine this relationship, performance on the AX Continuous Performance Task (a well-known cognitive control measure) was examined under threat of performance-contingent punishment relative to a no-threat condition, and related to trait anxiety, measured with the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (Spielberger et al., 1983). We hypothesized that high-anxiety individuals would engage in lower and/or more reactive cognitive control relative to low-anxiety individuals, especially under the possibility of punishment.