Working memory load reduces the electrocortical processing of positive pictures. Academic Article uri icon


  • To date, the emotion regulation literature has focused primarily on the down-regulation of negative emotion, with far fewer studies interrogating the mechanisms at work in positive emotion regulation. This body of work has suggested that nonaffective mechanisms, such as cognitive load have a role to play in reducing emotional response. For example, the late positive potential (LPP), which tracks attention to salient stimuli, is reduced when task-irrelevant negative and neutral stimuli are presented under high compared with low working memory load. Using positive stimuli, working memory load has been shown to reduce the LPP elicited by positive words and faces but has not previously been shown to modulate the LPP elicited by positive scenes. Emotional scenes are the predominant type of stimuli used in the broader emotion regulation literature, are more arousing than faces, and have been shown to more strongly modulate the LPP. Here, 41 participants performed a working memory task interspersed with the presentation of positive and neutral scenes, while electroencephalography was recorded. Results showed that the LPP was increased for positive compared with neutral pictures and reduced on high-load compared to low-load trials. Working memory performance was worse on high-load compared with low-load trials, although it was not significantly correlated with the LPP, and picture type did not affect working memory performance. Results bridge to the willful emotion regulation literature to increase understanding of the mechanisms underlying positive emotion regulation, which has been relatively unexamined.

published proceedings

  • Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci

author list (cited authors)

  • Barley, B., Bauer, E. A., Wilson, K. A., & MacNamara, A.

complete list of authors

  • Barley, Blake||Bauer, Elizabeth A||Wilson, Kayla A||MacNamara, Annmarie

publication date

  • April 2021