Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

The Influence of Approach-Avoidance Motivational Orientation on Conflict Adaptation

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

The Influence of Approach-Avoidance Motivational Orientation on Conflict Adaptation

Article excerpt

Published online: 20 May 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract To deal effectively with a continuously changing environment, our cognitive system adaptively regulates resource allocation. Earlier findings showed that an avoidance orientation (induced by arm extension), relative to an approach orientation (induced by arm flexion), enhanced sustained cognitive control. In avoidance conditions, performance on a cognitive control task was enhanced, as indicated by a reduced congruency effect, relative to approach conditions. Extending these findings, in the present behavioral studies we investigated dynamic adaptations in cognitive control-that is, conflict adaptation. We proposed that an avoidance state recruits more resources in response to conflicting signals, and thereby increases conflict adaptation. Conversely, in an approach state, conflict processing diminishes, which consequently weakens conflict adaptation. As predicted, approach versus avoidance arm movements affected both behavioral congruency effects and conflict adaptation: As compared to approach, avoidance movements elicited reduced congruency effects and increased conflict adaptation. These results are discussed in line with a possible underlying neuropsychological model.

Keywords Approach-avoidance motivational orientation . Conflict monitoring . Cognitive control . Conflict adaptation . Resource allocation

An important mechanism of our cognitive system is the allocation of resources to effectively deal with difficult, problematic, or novel situations, by up-regulating cognitive control. In a changing environment, being able to regulate cognitive control in a flexible manner helps us to respond adaptively to task demands. In addition to sustained, or tonic, cognitive control, dynamic adjustments of cognitive control consist of trial-by-trial adaptations of cognitive control as a function of previous trial difficulty due to conflict. This is called conflict adaptation and is thought to reflect temporary, or phasic, enhancements or reductions of cognitive control (Botvinick, Braver, Barch, Carter, & Cohen, 2001).

Paradigms such as the flanker task (Eriksen & Eriksen, 1974) were designed to examine cognitive control processes. In the flanker task, people have to indicate the direction of a central arrow, while adjacent arrows are in the same (congruent) or another (incongruent) direction. The strength of the congruency effect-entailing that congruent trials are responded to faster than incongruent trials-varies as a function of whether or not the previous trial contained a conflict: The congruency effect on the current trial is less strong after an incongruent trial than after a congruent trial (Gratton, Coles, & Donchin, 1992). This effect of the previous trial on current trial performance is an empirical indicator of conflict adaptation. Ample studies have since shown that conflict adaptation is a robust phenomenon that occurs across several tasks (Egner, 2008; Gratton et al., 1992; Stürmer, Leuthold, Soetens, Schröter, & Sommer, 2002).

Modulators of cognitive control

Recent research has investigated how affectively valenced stimuli or mood states may modulate conflict adaptation (for reviews, see Chiew & Braver, 2011; Dreisbach & Fischer, 2012). For example, positive reward signals have been shown to modulate conflict adaptation (van Steenbergen, Band, & Hommel, 2009), although the direction of this effect seems to depend on performance-contingency and the type of stimuli that is used to signal reward (e.g., Braem et al., 2013; Braem, Verguts, Roggeman, & Notebaert, 2012; Stürmer, Nigbur, Schacht, & Sommer, 2011). Furthermore, disentangling manipulations of affect (positive vs. negative) and arousal (high vs. low), several studies have shown that, irrespective of arousal, negative states result in enhanced conflict adaptation, as compared to positive states (Kuhbandner & Zehetleitner, 2011; van Steenbergen, Band, & Hommel, 2010; cf. …

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