Cognitive depletion or cognitive depression? On the role of affect in sustained cognitive control.

01 October 2018 → 30 September 2022
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Social sciences
    • Biological and physiological psychology
    • General psychology
    • Other psychology and cognitive sciences
cognitive control
Project description

Controlling our behavior is something we can only do for a limited time. E.g., when studying multiple hours in preparation for an exam, studying typically becomes increasingly more difficult. At first sight, it seems like controlling our behavior relies on a finite resource that becomes exhausted with use – an idea that dominated cognitive psychology for the past two decades. However, more recent studies have indicated that, e.g., incentives can restore our ability to control behavior. These, and other, studies call for more systematic research into the motivational and affective correlates of cognitive control over time. Some studies already started to indicate that controlling our behavior is essentially emotional. For example, consider the Stroop task, which is often used to study controlled behavior. Here, you have to name the ink color (e.g., green) of color words (e.g., “blue”), while ignoring the meaning of the word. Our impulse is to process the meaning of a word, but whenever our impulses are inconsistent with our goal (e.g., “blue” in green ink), we experience ‘conflict’. These studies found that the detection of such conflict is experienced as aversive. While this aversive experience could be useful on a short term, after a while it might make us tired, unwilling, and develop a preference for other activities. Therefore, I will investigate how the emotional experience of conflict actually changes over time when we have to control behavior for extended times.