Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Tracking the Implicit Self Using Event-Related Potentials

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Tracking the Implicit Self Using Event-Related Potentials

Article excerpt

Published online: 2 May 2013

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Negative biases in implicit self-evaluation are thought to be detrimental to subjective well-being and have been linked to various psychological disorders, including depression. An understanding of the neural processes un- derlying implicit self-evaluation in healthy subjects could provide a basis for the investigation of negative biases in depressed patients, the development of differential psycho- therapeutic interventions, and the estimation of relapse risk in remitted patients. We thus studied the brain processes linked to implicit self-evaluation in 25 healthy subjects using event-related potential (ERP) recording during a self-relevant Implicit Association Test (sIAT). Consistent with a positive implicit self-evaluation in healthy subjects, they responded significantly faster to the congruent (self-- positive mapping) than to the incongruent sIAT condition (self--negative mapping). Our main finding was a topo- graphical ERP difference in a time window between 600 and 700 ms, whereas no significant differences between congruent and incongruent conditions were observed in earlier time windows. This suggests that biases in implicit self-evaluation are reflected only indirectly, in the additional recruitment of control processes needed to override the positive implicit self-evaluation of healthy subjects in the incongruent sIAT condition. Brain activations linked to these control processes can thus serve as an indirect measure for estimating biases in implicit self-evaluation. The sIAT paradigm, combined with ERP, could therefore permit the tracking of the neural processes underlying implicit self- evaluation in depressed patients during psychotherapy.

Keywords Cognitive control . Implicit self-esteem . Depression . ERP . Implicit Association Test (IAT)

How we see ourselves contributes markedly to our emotion- al experience of the events in our surroundings. According- ly, previous research has linked high self-esteem to happiness, better psychological adjustment (Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, & Vohs, 2003), and higher positive and lower negative affect (Orth, Robins, & Widaman, 2012). Low self-esteem, in contrast, has been associated with various psychological symptoms, such as depression (Franck, De Raedt, Dereu, & Van den Abbeele, 2007; Orth, Robins, Trzesniewski, Maes, & Schmitt, 2009), social anx- iety (de Jong, 2002; Ginsburg, La Greca, & Silverman, 1998; Tanner, Stopa, & De Houwer, 2006), and bulimia (Cockerham, Stopa, Bell, & Gregg, 2009; Vohs et al., 2001). Furthermore, longitudinal studies suggest that low self-esteem predicts depression, and is therefore thought to be a key factor in the development and maintenance of depression (Ormel, Oldehinkel, & Vollebergh, 2004; Sowislo & Orth, 2013). According to cognitive theories (Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emery, 1979; Beck, 1995; Ingram, 1984; Teasdale, 1988), depression is characterized by neg- atively biased information processing grounded in dysfunc- tional self-schemata, and by related negative assumptions about oneself that are assumed to originate from negative emotional experiences in the past (Beck, 1967). These self- schemata are thought to be only partly accessible to con- scious reflection (Bosson, Swann, & Pennebaker, 2000), and thus at best are partially accessible by explicit self- reports such as questionnaires. Therefore, implicit methods are an attractive approach to assess implicit self-evaluations as part of subjects' individual self-schemata.

The Implicit Association Test containing self-related stimuli (sIAT) has been developed for measuring biases in implicit self-evaluation (Greenwald & Farnham, 2000). In contrast to self-reports based on conscious, and therefore explicit self-evaluations, the sIAT is a computerized catego- rization task that relies on differences in reaction times (RTs) to measure the individual implicit association strength be- tween two concept categories (self/not self) and two attri- bute categories (positive attributes/negative attributes). …

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