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Disruption of Emotion and Conflict Processing in HIV Infection with and without Alcoholism Comorbidity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 March 2011

Tilman Schulte*
SRI International, Neuroscience Program, Menlo Park, California
Eva M. Müller-Oehring
SRI International, Neuroscience Program, Menlo Park, California Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California
Edith V. Sullivan
SRI International, Neuroscience Program, Menlo Park, California
Adolf Pfefferbaum
SRI International, Neuroscience Program, Menlo Park, California Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California
Correspondence and reprint requests to: Tilman Schulte, SRI International, 333 Ravenswood Avenue, Menlo Park, CA 94025-3493. E-mail:


Alcoholism and HIV-1 infection each affect components of selective attention and cognitive control that may contribute to deficits in emotion processing based on closely interacting fronto-parietal attention and frontal-subcortical emotion systems. Here, we investigated whether patients with alcoholism, HIV-1 infection, or both diseases have greater difficulty than healthy controls in resolving conflict from emotional words with different valences. Accordingly, patients with alcoholism (ALC, n = 20), HIV-1 infection (HIV, n = 20), ALC + HIV comorbidity (n = 22), and controls (CTL, n = 16) performed an emotional Stroop Match-to-Sample task, which assessed the contribution of emotion (happy, angry) to cognitive control (Stroop conflict processing). ALC + HIV showed greater Stroop effects than HIV, ALC, or CTL for negative (ANGRY) but not for positive (HAPPY) words, and also when the cue color did not match the Stroop stimulus color; the comorbid group performed similarly to the others when cue and word colors matched. Furthermore, emotionally salient face cues prolonged color-matching responses in all groups. HIV alone, compared with the other three groups, showed disproportionately slowed color-matching time when trials featured angry faces. The enhanced Stroop effects prominent in ALC + HIV suggest difficulty in exercising attentional top-down control on processes that consume attentional capacity, especially when cognitive effort is required to ignore negative emotions. (JINS, 2011, 17, 537–550)

Research Articles
Copyright © The International Neuropsychological Society 2011

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