Abstract Similar effects have been reported for diverting attention from postural control and increased anxiety on the characteristics of center-of-pressure (COP) time series (decreased excursions and elevated mean power frequency). These effects have also received similar interpretations in terms of increased postural stiffness, suggesting that cognitive and affective manipulations have similar influences on postural control. The present experiment tested this hypothesis by comparing postural conditions involving manipulations of attention (diverting attention from posture using cognitive and motor dual tasks) and anxiety (standing at a height), and by complementing posturography with electromyographic analyses to directly examine neuromuscular stiffness control. Affective and cognitive manipulations had markedly different effects. Unlike the height condition, diverting attention from balance induced smaller COP amplitudes and higher sway frequencies. In addition, more regular COP trajectories (lower sample entropy) were found in the height condition than the dual-task conditions, suggesting elevated attentional investment in posture under the affective manipulation. Finally, based on an analysis of the cross-correlation function between anterior–posterior COP time series and enveloped calf muscle activity, indications of tighter anticipatory neuromuscular control of posture were found for the height condition only. Our data suggest that affective and cognitive perturbations have qualitatively different effects on postural control, and thus are likely to be associated with different control processes, as evidenced by differences in neuromuscular regulation and attentional investment in posture.