Affective modulation of volitional control: The moderating role of action tendencies, ambivalence, and motivational conflict (completed)

A core topic of the present CRC is how volitional control supports an organism's goal-pursuit in dynamic environments. Project B2 will investigate the impact of affect on volitional control-parameters. Extensive evidence suggest that affect adjusts volitional control in a way that is compatible with the regulatory needs that go along with the affective state, with positive compared to negative affect tuning cognition towards a more global, flexible way of processing (from now on labeled valence-contingent tuning model, VTM). This evidence notwithstanding, recent findings suggest that the link between affective stimuli and control adjustments might be more complex than implied by the VTM. For example, some positive emotions were demonstrated to result in cognitive tuning similar to the inflexibility often associated with negative moods. Likewise, some studies suggest that negative emotions can result in cognitive tuning that resembles the flexibility typically associated with positive moods. The blocking of goal-pursuit, a condition that typically elicits negative affect, was recently shown to broaden the scope of attention. Research has only begun to systematically investigate moderators of the impact of affective stimuli on volitional control. Project B2 will investigate theoretically derived and largely ignored moderators of how affect impacts volitional control, thereby extending the VTM. First, recent evidence suggests that affective stimuli that elicit strong motivation may reduce cognitive flexibility and narrow attention irrespective of their valence. Based on these findings, the present project will investigate the effect of the degree to which affective stimuli are habitually associated with particular sequences of action. With stronger habitual action tendencies, a reduction in flexibility and attention breadth can be expected (Experiments 1-3). Second, affective stimuli may be more or less ambivalent (i.e. contain positive and negative aspects at the same time). Ambivalence typically creates negative affect. Under certain conditions, however, ambivalent affective stimuli can be predicted to shift cognition towards greater flexibility and broader attention focus (Experiments 4-6). Third, the presence of multiple affective stimuli can cause motivational conflicts, such as approach-approach (two positive stimuli) or avoidance-avoidance (two negative stimuli) conflicts. Based on Lewins (1935) field theory, the latter type of conflict can be predicted to shift volitional control towards flexibility and broad attention despite coming along with greater negativity (Experiment 7-8). In summary, this project aims at improving the understanding of how affective stimuli modulate volitional control above and beyond valence. It will study three potential moderators of the affect-volition link, and will generalize the findings to two control parameters. The results can be expected to have important implications for theories of affective modulation of volitional control, ambivalence, and conflict.