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It has been proposed that the neural basis for cognitive vulnerability to depression involves an imbalance in frontolimbic activity during the processing of cues with a negative affective value. Although the question is central to cognitive theory, whether this association is amplified by diagnosis of an affective disorder or recent life stress has not been investigated. A composite cognitive vulnerability score based on questionnaire assessment was used to predict neural responses to negative emotional stimuli in N = 112 participants. Potential moderating effects of psychiatric diagnosis and negative life events were examined. Main and interaction effects were tested against a threshold of p < .05, family-wise error (FWE) corrected at the cluster level, and the results were small-volume corrected in regions of interest. Cognitive vulnerability predicted higher activation of superior parietal areas (p(FWE) < .01) for negative than for positive faces. The association was significantly stronger in healthy participants. For negative versus control stimuli, cognitive vulnerability predicted higher ventrolateral prefrontal and subgenual anterior cingulate activation (p(FWE) < .05) to equal extents in both groups. We found no evidence for an association with amygdala activation. Life events did not moderate the findings. We concluded that cognitive vulnerability was associated with higher activation of frontoparietal areas during an implicit emotional task. These higher levels of activation may potentially reflect increased effort being required to ignore irrelevant negative emotional information in vulnerable populations.

Original publication




Journal article


Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci

Publication Date





69 - 79


Adult, Anxiety Disorders, Depressive Disorder, Emotions, Facial Expression, Female, Gyrus Cinguli, Humans, Life Change Events, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Middle Aged, Prefrontal Cortex