Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Appraisal refers to the evaluation of the meaning of emotional stimuli and is considered causal in the generation of an emotional response. Cognitive neuroscience has paid little attention to a theoretical distinction between low-level appraisal, considered to be automatic and preattentive, and high-level appraisal that requires attentional and working memory resources. To disentangle low-level from high-level appraisal, we varied cognitive load in a concurrent, unrelated working memory task, while anxiety was induced through anticipation of impending pain. Confirming theoretical predictions, we show that anxiety-related activity in dorsal medial prefrontal/rostral anterior cingulate cortex (dorsal MPFC/ACC) is attenuated under high, relative to low, cognitive load. Lateral prefrontal regions previously implicated in reappraisal and cognitive emotion regulation show a similar interaction between anxiety and cognitive load. Critically, there were no changes in physiological and subjective measures of low-level appraisal outcome and emotional response generation as a function of load, allowing us to conclude that MPFC/ACC and lateral PFC activity during anticipatory anxiety reflects high-level appraisal. Our data provide neurobiological evidence for a distinction between low-level and high-level appraisal mechanisms.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





1458 - 1466


Adolescent, Adult, Anxiety, Arousal, Attention, Brain Mapping, Cerebral Cortex, Emotions, Female, Functional Laterality, Gyrus Cinguli, Humans, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Imaging, Three-Dimensional, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Memory, Short-Term, Middle Aged, Nerve Net, Pain, Prefrontal Cortex, Psychomotor Performance, Serial Learning