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The buzz word in many sciences is integration, and as the series title suggests, scientists need to integrate social, development, cognitive, clinical and neuroscientific approaches in order to uncover the neural mechanisms of self directed behavior, and so says Mark D’esposito on reading this book. Hardcover, and 555 pages, this was clearly no small task.
The nature of goal directed behavior is such that ambivalence, namely when we are faced with tempting and conflicting alternatives to our desired behavior, is a challenge for most.
To begin to explore this, the first chapter is from Krug and Carter, and looks at the anterior cingulate for the origins of self-directed cognitive control. These authors examine the anterior cingulate and its recruitment of prefrontal areas to resolve conflict in emotional regulation and appraisal as well as social cognitive phenomena such as moral reasoning and attitudes, social exclusion, and predictably, cognitive dissonance. In this way, they go some way to explaining how conflict theory, which was originally designed to address cognitive control of attention, applies to a wider arena such as high-level emotional and associated neural activity, related to self-control and attention to emotional conflicts.
Fellows follows with a component process analysis of the effects of frontal lobe damage on human decision making. Self control, Fellows holds, can be understood in terms of simple component processes, including the ability to flexibly learn from reward and punishment, to track the value of potential choices or to predict future events, relying on particular brain regions. Fellows draws on recent neuropsychological work on regional frontal lobe control contributions to reinforcement learning and decision making. Some of these component processes have to be seen in a wider context, such as working memory, allocation of cognitive resources, maintenance and shifting of selective attention, and the inhibition of prepotent response tendencies would of course also be involved in the process of self control, as many researchers have postulated.
Jenny Beer has her chapter next, with a look at how we look at ourselves when we take a somewhat unrealistic and overly positive self perception in an automatic way: positive illusions are thus able to scaffold such views of oneself, in order to avoid emotional conflict. Whilst this may work in the short term, such affirmative views do not hold up in the long term, and do not promote self control over time. Clearly the information processing that goes on is hardly critical, and hence described as shallow, a form of cognitive shortcut to relieve ambivalence and distress, although positive for mood regulation, but not for the sacrifice of other goals, which may also be useful. In this way, Beer goes some way to describing the ambivalence which appears the target of Motivational Interviewing to address barriers to effective action based on shortcut positivism.
Amodio and Devine deliver a chapter on the regulation of intergroup bias, taking goal setting to the level of society and other group goals and motivation. Presenting theoretical models first, the authors go on to highlight some of the advances in the study of control in the intergroup domain, helping define self control as a self regulatory process. It is not all plain sailing however, and they point out some major challenges in this activity and research in the future. All in all they attempt to attack the dualism and top-down nature of research into self regulating activity, still inherent in much thinking in this field, and obviously always important in the context of understanding the effect of racial bias etc.
Kross and Ochsner, in the next chapter look at integrating research on self control across multiple levels of analysis, supporting what D’esposito said in his comments on the book. SCAN, or Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, provides just such an integration, so that meanings can be actively reinterpreted in emotionally evocative stimuli. Again, the focus is the lateral prefrontal cortex, dorsal regions of the medial prefrontal areas, and the anterior cingulate, and the top down regulation and bottom up appraisals that support such activity in the brain.
The Stroop task appears in many chapters, given the effect of incongruence of stimulus in awakening the brain’s conflict resolutions centers, and Buhle, Wager and Smith take a look at how this is done in examining emotional regulation. More specifically, are there emotional and non-emotional areas of control in the anterior cingulate? Early studies supported this, latterly; the research has provided limited support. They provide a comprehensive review of the emotional Stroop tasks.
Locke and Braver look at motivational influences on cognitive control using the skills of cognitive neuroscience: they review the literature that suggests, as their research does, that motivational manipulations impact brain regions associated with the exertion of specific cognitive control functions. They make interesting references to dopamine as being more than a hedonic responder, more in fact as a signaller of whether and when reward will actually arrive, a reward learning or reward predicting mechanism. The nucleus accumbens is thus rather involved with wanting, not liking, and Beer would like the idea that dopamine release makes the world rather rose-tinted, full of potential rewards, and the accumbens makes us want one of those. You can want something you do not like at all; the wanting can keep a drug addict going long after the pleasant effects are a thing of the past. Wanting something you don’t like is quite possible it seems. Motivation is thus not a drive-reducing process that attempts to correct deficits in reward signaled by the level of dopamine release, but rather, it is a process by which incentive salience becomes attached to stimuli, such that these stimuli attract approach-related behaviors that vary in strength in proportion to the estimated magnitude in salience. Liking, is mediated by an opiate system in the shell of the accumbens. Wanting and liking go together. Both reward and punishment as motivators are also discussed.
Cohen and Lieberman look for a common neural basis of exerting self control in multiple domains, looking at only 6 of the multiples available, limiting themselves to six forms of conscious, explicit control, motor response inhibition, suppressing risky behavior, delaying gratification, regulating emotion, memory inhibition, and thought suppression.
Now that the neural pathways have been discussed, the second part of the book looks at the mental: first off are Broadway, Redick and Engle, who target the most obvious of the fractions, namely working memory, which they will argue is a critical fraction for maintaining good self control.
Waszak, Springer and Prinz take a look next at the dynamic control of human actions, sensorimotor and ideomotor both, showing that internally generated mental states play a core role in the control of goal based actions and stimulus based actions.
Meiran is next, looking at task-switching, in rigid and flexible self control. In this way, an inner obstacle dictates a rigid approach, as compared to enabling control. Online monitoring of the more doable small goals is essentially the target of some flexibility, in order to move up the hierarchy to the main goal. Inner obstacles should thus not provide a definitive blocking action.
Hall and Payne examine unconscious influences of attitudes and challenges to self control, which of course preselect how they will think of race, and engender unhealthy attitudes. On a similar vein, Gonsalkorale, Sherman and Allen will look at implicit attitudes again, but at the issue of self control over automatic associations in the following chapter, proposing the Quad model, used to estimate the contribution of various aspects of implicit bias.
Morewedge, Gay and Wegner look at premeditation, and how this might engender misperceptions of personal control. Even irrelevant premeditation can lead us to believe that an action’s consequences are under personal control, and that the result was indeed the direct result of our premeditations.
The power of planning in goal setting has always intrigued in the science of motivation, and here Gollwitzer, Gawrilow and Oettingen look at the subject of effective goal striving, even in impaired action control in attentional problems in children. Making if-then contingencies is vital here as discussed. Kruglanski and Kopetz look at the essential ingredients of self control (saliency of seemingly incompatible objectives, and their relative value) and the basic ways of responding to the self control problem. There is thus here an attempt to provide a framework to address the need to guide our understanding of self-control phenomena. Scholer and Higgins look again at conflict and control at different levels of self control, challenging the short-term gratification versus long term goal for gain definitions of the conflict in self regulation, rather focusing on the resolution of conflict as a broader way of looking at the problem. As with Kruglanski and Kopetz, and further refining Scholer and Higgins, Magen and Gross present suggestions toward a general model of self control, integrating two existing models, one, a cybernetic control theory and a process model of emotion-regulation. Implicit control of stereotype activation recalls us to the area of regulation of goals to be egalitarian and non-stereotypic in one’s dealing with others, namely regulating the more automatic, stereotypical response, from Moskowiz and Li, followed by the ego depletion and limited resource model of self control, from Mead, Alquist and Baumeister. Self control is here seen as a limited resource, becoming depleted with use, and probably with glucose too, and the benefits of good self control are contrasted with the cost of bad social control across a wide variety of domains. Supporting the limited resource of self control are standards set by self, and society, motivation to perform the desired behavior, and personal monitoring.
So we all walk what Fishbach and Converse call the line between goals and temptations (we are now at chapter 21), and the big picture, a construal level analysis of self control (Fujita, Trope and Lieberman, this time Nina, not Mathew Lieberman), the construal level theory is something from Lieberman and Trope previously, which posits that the same even or object can be mentally repressed at different levels of abstraction. In this way, the authors look at why, despite the drive to the big picture, people so often fail to act in line with their global interests, and thus fail at self control. They are influenced by how they subjectively understand and interpret events. Abstract, higher level construals support the global event being achieved.
Willpower is thus a more complex entity than a psychological attribute, and Kross and Mischel, ( the latter of marshmallow fame) examine the processes from stimulus control to self control, moving to an integrative understanding of the processes underlying willpower. As James noted, transition from wishing to willing something be so, involves preliminary conditions that must be met. These include cognitive and attentional processes that substantially enhance the ability to achieve self control, and have impressive long term stability. In this chapter, an attempt is made to demystify willpower as some psychological entity in itself, and fractionate it too, using a CAPS framework.
As before, the idea of self control in groups is brought forward, this time by Levine, Alexander and Hansen. They examine the two ways that individuals respond to group pressure, namely resistance and capitulation, and also the ways groups initiate control for their own ends, and that members view such control as unwelcome restraint. Individuals may however seek group control to regulate their own behavior. Justice is thus of course one such method of socially guided self control, as examined by Tyler in chapter 25, and Feygina, Goldsmith and Jost go even wider, into global warming and climate change, with a chapter on system justification and the disruption of environmental goal setting, looking at self regulation as a starting point. The disrupting system can thus be rationalized as being legitimate and just, but this disrupts the process of setting accordant goals which address such issues. If self control is an internal phenomenon, then teleological behaviorism has insight into the problem of self control, as studied by Rachli in the last chapter. This is a most difficult chapter, contrasting long term and short term conflict as being either generated by internal an internal and autonomous spiritual, neurological or cognitive processes if they are not inherited in toto, and he compares this to creationism.
This book is an immense read, small font, double column and 555 pages, and packed with unimaginable variations on the similar themes of how we try to resolve conflict when short term desires and long term goals collide, with thinking, emotions and feelings working with and against each other in the neurological battleground. An integrative approach is always held forward as the modus operandi, as it should, and the carefully selected and grouped chapters, with possible exception of the last one, work well together to solidify the thinking of the reader when it comes to studying the nature of ambivalence and how it directs motivation and outcomes. Most of the chapters are not just literature reviews, or the drumming of old models, but rather do assess the literature in critical ways, and then apply various models or rather challenge them, to derive a more modern view of the integrated science behind them.
It certainly is worth buying, and although often complex, the editors have allowed some avenue into the book by the number of chapters and variety of authors, something for everyone, but little for beginners. This is a serious read, for serious scholars, and especially for those who seek to define themselves as integrationists, in what looks like a narrow field of study, but which in fact is quite wide, and has wider implications for behavioral and cognitive neuroscientists.
© 2011 Roy Sugarman
Roy Sugarman PhD, Director of Applied Neuroscience: Athletes Performance and Core Performance, USA