The cognitive and emotional modulation of the cardiac defense response was investigated in this study. One hundred forty-four participants were exposed to three presentations of an intense auditory stimulus while performing one of four attentional tasks: a control task, an external perceptual tracking task, and two internal tasks presented at either easy or difficult memory loads. State anxiety was also manipulated by requiring each group to perform either with or without the threat of shock. Heart rate and vasomotor activity were recorded. Results indicated that only the externally directed tracking task led to potentiation of the cardiac response. No predicted effects for attentional demands were obtained and the anxiety manipulation did not appear to have an effect. Differences between measures were also observed, particularly with respect to response habituation. Unlike cardiac activity, vasomotor responses displayed resistance to habituation. The results are discussed in relation to contemporary accounts of defensive responding.