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Motivation and Cognitive ControlReview - Motivation and Cognitive Control
by Todd S. Braver (Editor)
Routledge, 2015
Review by Roy Sugarman PhD
Aug 30th 2016 (Volume 20, Issue 35)

If you find it odd to combine these two facilities, then think of this: we might regard a person who does not focus ardently and diligently as someone who lacks motivation, in other words the zeal or drive to focus. We could engage in conjecture, or look to cognitive science, which this work does, focusing on control processes as well as goal-directed behavior.

Psychology and in particular assessment and therapy hate a passive patient. The sine qua non for these is the active and engaged, focused subject who does their best, by which we mean they direct their available attentional focus at the test demand, provided they understand that demand. Failure to do so is often described as a negative-response bias. We have lots of those biases documented too.  Participant motivation cannot therefore be predicted from the assessor telling them to do their best, work fast and accurately, and so on. Rewarding compliance has been found to increase such engagement, but to what extent can we assume or measure an adopted desire vs rewarded compliance to perform across the motivation thresholds. We do know that monetary rewards may reduce drive to complete a task as it may have no effect on future behavior that is not rewarded, e.g. In motivating compliance with the HRA on a wellness program.

But this is a dense and science-valanced tome. In this way, Todd Braver summarizes his choice of authors and chapters, in an essential summary of what he hopes will be the beginning of cross-talk between those looking at the connection between cognition and motivation in various arenas. To this end, he chose to look at mechanisms that distinguish or are shared between motivation and attention (chs 2, 3) and reward-triggered associative learning (chs 3, 4, 6, 15), effects of reward cue timing on cognitive control (chs 4, 6, 9), moderators of motivational influence such as stress (ch 5), paradigms best suited for identifying goal-directed control and motivational factors (ch’s7, 8, 14, 15). The second section emphasizes the challenges of studying the relationship between motivation and affect, in terms of both positive affect and approach motivation (chs 8, 9), and negative affect and aversive motivation (chs 9, 10, 11). The role conflict plays in modulating affect and motivation is examined (chs 12, 16) and then in the third section, a lifetime approach is emphasized in terms of the limbic reward and prefrontal control systems (chs 13, 14), trade-offs between model-based and model-free decision-making (chs 14, 15) and the motivational and behavioral effects of changes in cognitive effort and socioeconomic goals (chs 16, 17).

Visual information processing is the first focus, hosted by Rothkirch and Sterzer.  Motivation, thought to have been higher-order, is now investigated as an influencer of basic sensory brain functions, and a modulator of the processing of visual information. This means not in the post-perception phase, but indeed in the perception phase itself.  In essence, we will seek to visualize more favored contents in our visual field if they are rewarded or rewarding, in other words subject to a motivational influence in early perceptual processes. Reward thus influences neuronal sensitivity and plasticity, and in that way, motivational effects depend perhaps on the availability of attentional resources.

There is thus an impact of reward on attention, as the next chapter from Anderson and Sali illustrates, since perceptual experiences are strongly influenced by selective attention. The richness of visual environments far exceeds the brain’s representational capacity, given that the world around us dies on our retinas after which we can only see what the brain can recreate as an experience from the chemical mix of the brain’s visual centers and processes. Attention is the process by which the brain is exposed to what is cogent for the organism and thus has been represented in our mental life vs. what is out there.  What is most meaningful both directs the attentional and thus visual focus, and thus also screens out the compelling and contrasting prepotent backgrounds in favor of the desired focus objects. Salient features that are irrelevant to the task can be distracting, and vary with intention. We all know in terms of motivational threshold how important intrinsic motivation is, but what of the role of extrinsic motivation as a reward for modulating attention? Perceptual sensitivity at the neuronal level again is influenced by the likely external reward for finding the rewarded objects, even when the reward structure is complex and involves multiple targets.  The findings would thus suggest that we respond to extrinsic reward incentives by modulating preparatory cognitive control states, biasing the processing of both stimuli associated with high-value and task-relevant stimuli more generally.  Attentional biases for reward-associated stimuli can be persistent, extending into periods of extinction in which rewards have long since faded. This means in effect we can be trained into behavior that lasts beyond the rewarded phase, into extinction.  More fully, when an individual is strongly motivated by the prospect of extrinsic rewarded to find a particular stimulus, the goal of selecting that stimulus may develop into an enduring cognitive state. However, as the authors go on to prove, goal states can be reinforced without creating value-driven attentional biases, and value-driven attentional biases can occur without the reinforcement of a corresponding goal state. These findings dissociate extrinsic reward-based motivation and value-driven attentional biases, supporting a unique role for learned stimulus-reward association in the control of attention. Value-driven attentional biases are thus not reducible to the reinforcement of a goal state through the use of extrinsic reward, so that associative reward learning between visual features and reward outcome is shown to modify attentional priorities.  The automatic selection of a reward-associated stimulus can develop without the presence of incentives to select that stimulus. The presence of the reward incentives does not give rise to a persistent selection bias in the absence of a predictive relationship between the stimulus and reward.

Krebs, Hopf and Boehler are up next with a still-unfolding line of research that modifies the above experiments somewhat to see what processes disrupt the rewarded cycle. Delgado, Ravizza and Porcelli look at the role of reward processing, in examining the motivational influences on cognitive control.  They begin with examining reward processing in the human brain and the role of cortical-striatal pathways. Reward representations are constantly updated to reflect changes in the intrinsically perceived value of the reward, this subjectivity dependent on various motivational states and the context relevant to the reward. A larger, distant reward will engage the more executive systems, and consequently involve more cognitive appraisal. Most obviously, stress exposure will modulate cognitive processes as well as reward circuitry.

Notebaert and Braem attack the issue of how reward influences human behavior, via its influence on how it influences information processing: hence subtle design changes within research can skew results dramatically. This leads the authors to parse three cognitive control components, linking reward components to control components. Hedonic effects of mood links to exploration, learning promotes exploitation and the motivational aspect of reward operates to enhance the anticipatory control component.

De Wit and Dickinson look at the ideomotor mechanisms of goal-directed behavior. They follow up on the previous chapter in terms of the learning and motivational mechanisms of goal-directed behavior, along with the contemporary revival by European psychologists of ideomotor theory, although they cannot entirely model this behavior with the tools at their disposal. Their solution is to integrate associative-cybernetic mechanisms with ideomotor processes to explain the motivation of goal-directed decisions that are based on outcome-response associations.

The role then of action-outcome and reward information is taken on by Marien, Aarts and Custers. They propose that an integration of ideomotor theories with motivational accounts of behavior can inform on cognitive control and goal-directed behavior. Behavioral flexibility, they argue, requires cognitive control processes that are closely linked with reward processing.

Gable, Browning and Harmon-Jones begin with the approach-withdrawal division in our motivational systems, and make some interesting observations around the attentional and executive brain functions. In this regard, the EEG findings in ERP’s, namely the N1 response, thought to correlated with the motivated attentional processing in the first 100ms after the presentation of a stimulus. The left hemisphere activation appears more local in attentional focus, vs the global. The results suggested for them support for the idea of a bidirectional relationship between motivational intensity and narrowed attention. Motivational intensity and direction of affective states thus impact our perceptions in this way, as well as attention, memory, categorization and performance, influencing time perception as well.

The tenth chapter, by Dreisbach and Fischer looks at conflicts as aversive signals, addressing the top-down and bottom-up regulation of cognitive control. This question they pose of why the detection of response conflicts should motivate sequential control adjustments: conflict resolution is in fact uninformative about subsequent control demands. Response conflict is thus postulated as a trigger signal with a motivational function. The aversive signal in response to the response conflict drives motivation, not by the response conflict itself.

Variation in affect is thought to underlie self-control, in the words of Saunders and Inzlicht, so that self-control is an emotional component, as in executive functions that underlie cognitive control, willpower, self-regulation as a range of reality-simulating mental processes. An affect alarm framework postulates that the integral negative affect processes improve self-control by orientating us to failure and goal conflicts, which in turn energize task engagement and encourage cognitive labor; conversely shifting priorities in response to the aversive demands of cognitive load drive disengagement in favor of the pursuit of more positive and rewarding activities that are immediately gratifying. Varying self-control will then result in comfort-seeking behavior. This explains it seems that negative affect may underlie both increased cognitive vigor as well as fatigue.

Holroyd alone presents chapter 12. The gas of cognitive control in terms of the supply of energy is nicely represented in Kasparov’s loss to IBM’s supercomputer: he felt fatigued from the cognitive load brought to bear by the rapid moves of the Deep Blue opponent. This begs the question as to what type of toxic by-product of cognitive load leads to fatigue?  Holroyd proposes this is nothing short of beta-amyloid peptide, as in Alzheimer’s pathological pathway. The system thus is subject to the evaluation of the long-term viability of the entire system in the face of a build-up of neural waste products, rather than some loss of energy.

Part three, as noted before, looks at age-related changes in cognitive motivation.  This begins in the teenage years within the Casey and Galván scope, but with not much of a contribution apart from recognizing the great individual variability and vulnerability in this period, but the huge reference list is a great contribution. Li and Eppinger look at the lifespan development of the reciprocal interactions between cognition and motivation, picking up on complex behaviors as above, namely goal-directed learning and decision making, requiring self-regulation and behavioral control. New data however question a simplistic maturation lead-lag model of subcortical functions leading cortical functions, and this will require further research of the relationship between fronto-striatal networks. They deal again with the previous author’s view that adolescents are particularly sensitive to the lure of reward, as Li and Eppinger found no such discrepancy with other ages.

Maddox and colleagues thus create a model with three factors to describe the motivational-learning framework in normal ageing. This would debunk simplistic views that motivation just means trying harder to achieve a goal. They propose a three-way interaction between a global motivation to approach positive rewards and avoid negative consequences, local task reward structures that maximize trial-by-trial gains and minimize trial-by-trial losses, and the optimal strategy for solving the task.

There may be linkages between age related changes in the costs of cognitive engagement, motivation and behavior according to Hess and Smith, and understanding these in terms of goal-based selectivity effects. General goals that support and conserve cognitive resources are thus favored, when resources are strained.  Selective engagement thus influences outcomes in terms of effort and performance. Not yet settled in terms of aging and motivation, Vicaria and Isaacowitz close off the book with a socioemotional perspective on motivation changes in aging, again using selectivity theory. The conclusion from their lab studies reveals underlying motivations for maintaining positive affect in older adults. Losses in cognitive resources associated with healthy adult aging affect cognitive and emotional processes, older adults implement strategies that are feasible in terms of achieving success, and also appropriate for achieving age-appropriate motivational goals. This allows for greater efficiency, more positive stimuli as opposed to very complex emotional stimuli that are too hard to process.

Braver has brought together a very dense body of literature via highly sophisticated researchers, and hence this is a text for only the most advanced in the field of cognitive psychology, testing even the understanding of quite advanced students. Academic practitioners of cognitive neuroscience will find the novel insights here as state of the art and fascinating, even if written probably some years ago during the collation of this material by the editor. The brain’s reward pathways are so complex in this regard, using systems meant for other more mundane biological tasks for higher-order decision making and simulation of outcomes to maximize thriving and avoid damage. However, as we know, modern life batters the brain across the lifespan and understanding how the brain navigates the cognitive load and the emotional drivers is key to understanding human beings.

A wonderful but dense look into a subject that will fascinate many, but with few who will grasp and understand the import unless they are true scholars of the subject.

 

© 2016 Roy Sugarman

 

Roy Sugarman PhD, Director: Applied Neuroscience, Performance Innovation Team, EXOS USA

 


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