Neural mechanisms of proactive and reactive cognitive control in social anxiety

Petra C. Schmid, Tali Kleiman, David M. Amodio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social anxiety-the fear of social embarrassment and negative evaluation by others-ranks among people's worst fears, and it is often thought to impair task performance. We investigated the neurocognitive processes through which trait social anxiety relates to task performance, proposing a model of the joint contributions of reactive control, theoretically associated with conflict monitoring and activity of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), and proactive control, theoretically associated with top-down regulation and activity of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). Participants varying in their degree of trait social anxiety completed the Eriksen flanker task while electroencephalography (EEG) was recorded. Task-related left dlPFC activity was indexed by relative left prefrontal EEG (inverse alpha), and conflict-related dACC activity was indexed by the N2r component of the event-related potential. Stronger activity in both regions predicted better response control, and greater social anxiety was associated with worse response control. Furthermore, for all participants, greater left prefrontal EEG activity predicted better behavioral control, but for high social anxiety participants only, greater N2r responses also predicted behavioral control. This pattern suggests that low social anxiety individuals engaged a proactive control process, driven by dlPFC activity, whereas high social anxiety individuals relied additionally on a reactive control process, driven by conflict-related dACC activity. These findings support a model of control that involves different patterns of interplay between proactive and reactive strategies and may help to explain self-regulatory impairments in social anxiety.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)137-145
Number of pages9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015


  • Anterior cingulate cortex
  • Cognitive control
  • N2r
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Social anxiety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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