Emotional modulation of cognitive control: Effects of positive affect and reward cues on goal shielding and switching (completed)

A central question derived from the control dilemma framework of the CRC is how cognitive control processes are modulated by emotions and reward processes. While cognitive control is often studied separately from emotions, there is increasing evidence that emotions modulate the balance between complementary control functions. In particular, positive affect has been associated with increased cognitive flexibility and an expanded breadth of attention. On a neural level, there is evidence that the balance between stable maintenance and flexible switching of goals and cognitive sets depends on interactions between the basal ganglia and lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), which are modulated by the neuromodulator dopamine (DA). Based on own previous work, in project B1 we will investigate how positive affect modulates the balance between complementary control processes (goal shielding vs. updating; focused attention vs. background monitoring) and aim to elucidate the underlying neural mechanisms. Specifically, we will test the hypotheses (i) that phasic positive affect and reward cues bias the stability-flexibility balance towards increased flexibility and (ii) that such effects reflect modulatory influences of dopaminergic reward systems on the interaction between the striatum and prefrontal cortex (PFC). To this end we combine behavioral (set-switching; selective attention; delayed response) paradigms with rapid event-related fMRI to examine whether activation in reward-related brain areas, elicited by positive emotional stimuli or reward cues, predicts moment-to-moment fluctuations of cognitive flexibility as reflected in behavioral indicators of goal maintenance, switching, and distractibility. Within the CRC, we expect the project to deepen our understanding of cognitive mechanisms and neural systems mediating the emotional modulation of cognitive control parameters.