Posterior versus frontal theta activity indexes approach motivation during affective autobiographical memories

K. Walden*, N. Pornpattananangkul, A. Curlee, D. P. McAdams, R. Nusslock

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Research has recently identified a promising neurophysiological marker of approach motivation involving posterior versus frontal (Pz – Fz) electroencephalographic (EEG) theta activity PFTA; Wacker, Chavanon, & Stemmler (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 91:171-187, 2006). Preliminary evidence indicated that PFTA is modulated by dopaminergic activity, thought to underlie appetitive tendencies, and that it indexes self-reported behavioral activation system (BAS) sensitivity. To date, research has largely relied on resting indices of PFTA and has yet to examine the relationship between PFTA and specific approach-related affective states generated by emotionally salient laboratory tasks. Accordingly, the present study evaluated PFTA both at rest and during an ecologically valid autobiographical memory task in which participants recalled personal life experiences involving a goal-striving, an anxious apprehension, a low-point (i.e., difficult), and a neutral memory while EEG data were recorded. In line with prediction, elevated PFTA was observed during both goal-striving and anxious apprehension autobiographical memories. PFTA was particularly elevated during anxious apprehension memories coded as being high on approach-related tendencies. Elevated PFTA during anxious apprehension is consistent with a growing literature indicating that anxious apprehension is associated with elevated approach- and reward-related brain function. Lastly, elevated resting PFTA was positively correlated with self-reported trait anger, a negatively valenced emotion characterized by approach-related tendencies. These results have implications for (a) enhancing our understanding of the neurophysiology of approach-related emotions, (b) establishing PFTA as an index of appetitive motivational states, and (c) clarifying our understanding of the neurophysiology and approach-related tendencies associated with both anxious apprehension and anger.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)132-144
Number of pages13
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014


  • Approach motivation
  • Autobiographical memories
  • Posterior versus frontal EEG theta activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Posterior versus frontal theta activity indexes approach motivation during affective autobiographical memories'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this