Negative mood is associated with decreased prefrontal cortex functioning during working memory in young adults

Michael K. Yeung, Tsz L. Lee, Agnes S. Chan (Corresponding Author)

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The prefrontal-subcortical model of emotion regulation postulates that decreased prefrontal cortex (PFC) functioning may underlie the emergence of clinical affective disorders. In addition, accumulated evidence suggests that there is considerable variability in negative affect in the nonclinical population. This study examined whether negative affective symptoms were associated with decreased PFC functioning in nonclinical young adults. Forty college students aged 18–24 years (ten males) underwent an n-back paradigm (i.e., a frontal executive task) with a working memory (WM) load (i.e., 3-back) and a vigilance control condition (i.e., 0-back) while their hemodynamics changes in the lateral and medial PFC on both sides were monitored using a 16-channel functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) system. They also filled out the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS) to estimate the levels of their negative emotions in the preceding week. Young adults exhibited an increased concentration of oxyhemoglobin and a decreased concentration of deoxyhemoglobin (i.e., activation), primarily in the lateral PFC, in response to the WM load (i.e., 3-back > 0-back). Importantly, higher DASS scores indicating higher levels of recent negative mood, especially depression and stress rather than anxiety symptoms, correlated with lower WM-related activation in the lateral PFC. Thus, recent negative mood is associated with decreased lateral PFC functioning during the executive control of WM in healthy young adults. Our findings suggest that decreased PFC functioning is also present in the nonclinical population with increased levels of negative mood and that fNIRS is a promising tool for elucidating individual differences in negative affective symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13802
Issue number6
Early online date4 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • anxiety
  • DASS
  • depression
  • fNIRS
  • hemodynamic response
  • n-back

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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