Although previous research suggests that depressive ruminators tend to become stuck in a particular mind-set, this mental inflexibility may not always be disadvantageous; in some cases, it may facilitate active maintenance of a single task goal in the face of distraction. To evaluate this hypothesis, we tested 98 college students, who differed in ruminative tendencies and dysphoria levels, on two executive-control tasks. One task emphasized fast-paced shifting between goals (letter naming), and one emphasized active goal maintenance (modified Stroop). Higher ruminative tendencies predicted more errors on the goal-shifting task but fewer errors on the goal-maintenance task; these results demonstrated that ruminative tendencies have both detrimental and beneficial effects. Moreover, although ruminative tendencies and dysphoria levels were moderately correlated (r = .42), higher dysphoria levels predicted more errors on the goal-maintenance task; this finding indicates that rumination and dysphoria can have opposing effects on executive control. Overall, these results suggest that depressive rumination reflects a trait associated with more stability (goal maintenance) than flexibility (goal shifting).
cognitive control; goal neglect; rumination; depression; executive functions; cognitive style
We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify brain regions involved in the process of mapping coherent discourse onto a developing mental representation. We manipulated discourse coherence by presenting sentences with definite articles (which lead to more coherent discourse) or indefinite articles (which lead to less coherent discourse). Comprehending connected discourse, compared with reading unrelated sentences, produced more neural activity in the right than left hemisphere of the frontal lobe. Thus, the right hemisphere of the frontal lobe is involved in some of the processes underlying mapping. In contrast, left-hemisphere structures were associated with lower-level processes in reading (such as word recognition and syntactic processing). Our results demonstrate the utility of using fMRI to investigate the neural substrates of higher-level cognitive processes such as discourse comprehension.
Although the processing of facial identity is known to be sensitive to the orientation of the face, it is less clear whether orientation sensitivity extends to the processing of facial expressions. To address this issue, we used functional MRI (fMRI) to measure the neural response to the Thatcher illusion. This illusion involves a local inversion of the eyes and mouth in a smiling face—when the face is upright, the inverted features make it appear grotesque, but when the face is inverted, the inversion is no longer apparent. Using an fMRI-adaptation paradigm, we found a release from adaptation in the superior temporal sulcus—a region directly linked to the processing of facial expressions—when the images were upright and they changed from a normal to a Thatcherized configuration. However, this release from adaptation was not evident when the faces were inverted. These results show that regions involved in processing facial expressions display a pronounced orientation sensitivity.
face perception; facial expressions; neuroimaging; facial features; cognitive neuroscience
Autistics are presumed to be characterized by cognitive impairment, and their cognitive strengths (e.g., in Block Design performance) are frequently interpreted as low-level by-products of high-level deficits, not as direct manifestations of intelligence. Recent attempts to identify the neuroanatomical and neurofunctional signature of autism have been positioned on this universal, but untested, assumption. We therefore assessed a broad sample of 38 autistic children on the preeminent test of fluid intelligence, Raven’s Progressive Matrices. Their scores were, on average, 30 percentile points, and in some cases more than 70 percentile points, higher than their scores on the Wechsler scales of intelligence. Typically developing control children showed no such discrepancy, and a similar contrast was observed when a sample of autistic adults was compared with a sample of nonautistic adults. We conclude that intelligence has been underestimated in autistics.
Prevention-focused individuals are motivated to maintain the status quo. Given this, we predicted that individuals with a strong prevention focus, either as a chronic predisposition or situationally induced, would treat their initial decision of how to behave on a first task as the status quo, and thus be motivated to repeat that decision on a subsequent task—even for decisions that are ethically questionable. Five studies supported this prediction in multiple ethical domains: whether or not to overstate performance (Studies 1, 2a, 2b), to disclose disadvantageous facts (Study 3), and to pledge a donation (Study 4). The prevention-repetition effect was observed when initial and subsequent decisions were in the same domain (Studies 1-3) and in different domains (Study 4). Alternative accounts such as justification for the initial decision and preference for consistency were ruled out (Study 2b).
Motivation; Morality; ethics; regulatory focus; prevention focus; slippery slope
We tested the hypotheses that the Fast Track intervention program for high-risk children would reduce adult aggressive behavior and that this effect would be mediated by decreased reactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis in response to social provocation. Participants were a subsample of males from the full trial sample, who during kindergarten had been randomly assigned to the 10-year Fast Track intervention or to a control group. The Fast Track program attempted to develop children’s social competencies through parental behavior management training to manage their child’s behavior, child social-cognitive and emotional-coping skills training, peer-relations coaching, academic tutoring, and classroom management. At a mean age of 26 years, participants responded to laboratory provocations. Results indicated that, relative to control participants, men assigned to the intervention demonstrated reduced aggression and testosterone reactivity to social provocations. Moreover, reduced testosterone reactivity mediated the effect of intervention on aggressive behavior, which provides evidence for an enduring biological mechanism underlying the effect of early psychosocial intervention on aggressive behavior in adulthood.
aggressive behavior; antisocial behavior; intervention; neuroendocrinology
Localization of tactile stimuli to the hand and digits is fundamental to somatosensory perception. However, little is known about the development or genetic bases of this ability in humans. We examined tactile localization in normally developing children, adolescents, adults, and people with Williams syndrome (WS), a genetic disorder resulting in a wide range of severe visual-spatial deficits. Normally developing four-year-olds made large stimulus localization errors, sometimes across digits, but nevertheless their errors revealed a structured internal representation of the hand. Errors became exponentially smaller over development, reaching adult level by adolescence. In contrast, people with WS showed large localization errors regardless of age and significant cross-digit errors, a profile similar to normal four-year-olds. Thus, tactile localization reflects internal organization of the hand even early in normal development, undergoes substantial development in normal children, and is susceptible to developmental, but not organizational impairment under genetic deficit.
Developmental Disorders; Parietal Lobe; Spatial Perception; Visuospatial Ability; Williams Syndrome
Stress response dampening is an important motive for alcohol use. However, stress reduction via alcohol (alcohol SRD) is observed inconsistently in the laboratory, and this has raised questions about the precise mechanisms and boundary conditions for these effects. Emerging evidence indicates that alcohol SRD may be observed selectively during uncertain but not certain threats. In a final sample of 89 participants, we measured stress response via potentiation of defensive startle reflex in response to threat of shock in blocks with certain (low and high) and uncertain shock intensity. Our alcohol-administration procedure produced blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) across a broad range (0.00%–0.12%) across participants. Increasing BACs were associated with linearly decreasing startle potentiation and self-reported anxiety. This SRD effect was greater during uncertain than certain threat. More broadly, these results suggest that distinct mechanisms are involved in response to threats of uncertain intensity and threats of certain intensity.
drug and substance abuse; stress reactions; emotions; startle reflex
Negative stereotypes about aging can impair older adults’ memory; however, the mechanisms underlying this are unclear. In two experiments we tested competing predictions derived from two theoretical accounts: executive control interference and regulatory fit. Older adults completed a working memory test either under stereotype threat about their memory or not. Monetary incentives were manipulated such that recall either led to gains or forgetting led to losses. The executive control interference account predicts that threat decreases the availability of executive control resources and hence should impair working memory performance. The regulatory fit account predicts that threat induces a prevention focus. Because of this threat should impair performance when gains are emphasized but improve performance when losses are emphasized. Results were only consistent with the regulatory fit account. Although stereotype threat significantly impaired older adults’ working memory performance when remembering led to gains, it significantly improved performance when forgetting led to losses.
stereotype threat; aging; memory; regulatory fit; executive control
Reliance on remembered facts or events requires memory for their sources, that is, the contexts in which those facts or events were embedded. Understanding of source retrieval has been stymied by the fact that uncontrolled fluctuations of attention during encoding can cloud important distinctions between competing theoretical accounts. To clarify the issue, we combined electrophysiology (high-density EEG recordings) with computational modeling of behavioral results. We manipulated subjects’ attention to an auditory attribute, whether the source of individual study words was a male or female speaker. Posterior alpha band (8–14 Hz) power in subjects’ EEG increased after a cue to ignore the gender of the person who was about to speak. Receiver-operating characteristic (ROC) analysis validated our interpretation of oscillatory dynamics. With attention under experimental control, computational modeling showed unequivocally that memory for source (male or female speaker) reflected a continuous, signal detection process rather than a threshold recollection process.
The contribution of rewarded actions to automatic attentional selection remains obscure. We hypothesized that some forms of automatic orienting, such as object-based selection, can be completely abandoned in lieu of reward maximizing strategy. While presenting identical visual stimuli to the observer, in a set of two experiments, we manipulate what is being rewarded (different object targets or random object locations) and the type of reward received (money or points). It was observed that reward alone guides attentional selection, entirely predicting behavior. These results suggest that guidance of selective attention, while automatic, is flexible and can be adjusted in accordance with external non-sensory reward-based factors.
Two laboratory experiments and one dyadic study of ongoing romantic partners examine how temporary and chronic deficits in self-control affect evaluations of others. We suggest that when individuals lack self-control resources, they value such resources in others. Supporting this hypothesis, we find that low (but not high) self-control individuals use self-control information when judging others, evaluating others with high self-control more positively than others with low self-control. In Study 1, depleted participants preferred higher (vs. lower) self-control others; control participants did not show this preference. Study 2 conceptually replicated this effect using a behavioral measure of trait self-control. In Study 3, low (but not high) self-control individuals reported greater dependence on ongoing dating partners with high (vs. low) self-control. We theorize that low self-control individuals may use interpersonal relationships to compensate for their lack of personal self-control resources.
Analyses of adult semantic networks suggest a learning mechanism involving preferential attachment: A word is more likely to enter the lexicon the more connected the known words to which it is related. We introduce and test two alternative growth principles: preferential acquisition—words enter the lexicon not because they are related to well-connected words, but because they connect well to other words in the learning environment—and the lure of the associates—new words are favored in proportion to their connections with known words. We tested these alternative principles using longitudinal analyses of developing networks of 130 nouns children learn prior to the age of 30 months. We tested both networks with links between words represented by features and networks with links represented by associations. The feature networks did not predict age of acquisition using any growth model. The associative networks grew by preferential acquisition, with the best model incorporating word frequency, number of phonological neighbors, and connectedness of the new word to words in the learning environment, as operationalized by connectedness to words typically acquired by the age of 30 months.
Eudaimonic well-being—a sense of purpose, meaning, and engagement with life—is protective against psychopathology and predicts physical health, including lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Although it has been suggested that the ability to engage the neural circuitry of reward may promote well-being and mediate the relationship between well-being and health, this hypothesis has remained untested. To test this hypothesis, we had participants view positive, neutral, and negative images while fMRI data were collected. Individuals with sustained activity in the striatum and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to positive stimuli over the course of the scan session reported greater well-being and had lower cortisol output. This suggests that sustained engagement of reward circuitry in response to positive events underlies well-being and adaptive regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
well-being; rewards; neuroimaging