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- The role of goal proximity and invested effort for the valuation of expected outcomes : an investigation with functional magnetic resonance imaging (2011)
- In human neuroscientific research, there has been an increasing interest in how the brain computes the value of an anticipated outcome. However, evidence is still missing about which valuation related brain regions are modulated by the proximity to an expected goal and the previously invested effort to reach a goal. The aim of this dissertation is to investigate the effects of goal proximity and invested effort on valuation related regions in the human brain. We addressed this question in two fMRI studies by integrating a commonly used reward anticipation task in differential versions of a Multitrial Reward Schedule Paradigm. In both experiments, subjects had to perform consecutive reward anticipation tasks under two different reward contingencies: in the delayed condition, participants received a monetary reward only after successful completion of multiple consecutive trials. In the immediate condition, money was earned after every successful trial. In the first study, we could demonstrate that the rostral cingulate zone of the posterior medial frontal cortex signals action value contingent to goal proximity, thereby replicating neurophysiological findings about goal proximity signals in a homologous region in non-human primates. The findings of the second study imply that brain regions associated with general cognitive control processes are modulated by previous effort investment. Furthermore, we found the posterior lateral prefrontal cortex and the orbitofrontal cortex to be involved in coding for the effort-based context of a situation. In sum, these results extend the role of the human rostral cingulate zone in outcome evaluation to the continuous updating of action values over a course of action steps based on the proximity to the expected reward. Furthermore, we tentatively suggest that previous effort investment invokes processes under the control of the executive system, and that posterior lateral prefrontal cortex and the orbitofrontal cortex are involved in an effort-based context representation that can be used for outcome evaluation that is dependent on the characteristics of the current situation.
- Trait anxiety and the neural efficiency of cognitive processing (2011)
- The current work investigated the association of trait anxiety and the neural efficiency of cognitive processing for affectively neutral (not threat-related) information. In a sample of 46 healthy volunteers, three fMRI experiments were conducted to test the prediction derived from attentional control theory (Eysenck et al., 2007) that high as compared to low trait-anxious individuals expend more neural effort on tasks requiring the top-down control of attention to reach a given level of performance. In a colour-word Stroop task requiring the inhibition of irrelevant stimulus information and associated responses as well as in a working-memorymanipulation task requiring the shifting of attention between items in working memory, trait anxiety (as measured with the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory; Spielberger et al., 1970) was positively associated with task-related increases in the activation of two adjacent regions in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). The finding that along with a stronger activation of this brain region commonly implicated in top-down control processes, the high-anxious subjects showed equal (working memory manipulation) or worse (Stroop) performance when compared to low-anxious subjects, does support the assumption that processing is less efficient in the high anxious. However, in contrast to the predictions, trait anxiety did not show a significant association with task-related brain activation in a task-switching paradigm requiring shifting between task sets. It is discussed how different attentional control demands of the task may account for differences in the effects of trait anxiety on overt behavioural performance and underlying neural processes. In addition to DLPFC activation, trait anxiety modulated the functional connectivity of distributed regions involved in processing of the Stroop and the working-memory-manipulation task. It is discussed how the observed differences in regional DLPFC activation and network connectivity relate to each other. A possible interpretation suggests that activation increases in the DLPFC reflect an attempt to compensate for suboptimal connectivity by investing more effort in prefrontally supported control processes. Overall, the current work shows an association of trait anxiety with the neural efficiency of cognitive processing in affectively neutral tasks involving attentional control. Furthermore, it suggests that investigations of neural efficiency should take into account difference in functional integration in addition to regional activation.
- The role of previous experience in conscious perception (2011)
- Which factors determine whether a stimulus is consciously perceived or unconsciously processed? Here, I investigate how previous experience on two different time scales – long term experience over the course of several days, and short term experience based on the previous trial – impact conscious perception. Regarding long term experience, I investigate how perceptual learning does not only change the capacity to process stimuli, but also the capacity to consciously perceive them. To this end, subjects are trained extensively to discriminate between masked stimuli, and concurrently rate their subjective experience. Both the ability to discriminate the stimuli as well as subjective awareness of the stimuli increase as a function of training. However, these two effects are not simple byproducts of each other. On the contrary, they display different time courses, with above chance discrimination performance emerging before subjective experience; importantly, the two learning effects also rely on different circuits in the brain: Moving the stimuli outside the trained receptive field size abolishes the learning effects on discrimination ability, but preserves the learning effects on subjective awareness. This indicates that the receptive fields serving subjective experience are larger than the ones serving objective performance, and that the channels through which they receive their information are arranged in parallel. Regarding short term experience, I investigate how memory based predictions arising from information acquired on the trial before affect visibility and the neural correlates of consciousness. To this end, I vary stimulus evidence as well as predictability and acquire electroencephalographic data. A comparison of the neural processes distinguishing consciously perceived from unperceived trials with and without predictions reveals that predictions speed up processing, thus shifting the neural correlates forward in time. Thus, the neural correlates of consciousness display a previously unappreciated flexibility in time and do not arise invariably late as had been predicted by some theorists. Admittedly, however, previous experience does not always stabilize perception. Instead, previous experience can have the reverse effect: Seeing the opposite of what was there, as in so-called repulsive aftereffects. Here, I investigate what determines the direction of previous experience using multistable stimuli. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment, I find that a widespread network of frontal, parietal, and ventral occipital brain areas is involved in perceptual stabilization, whereas the reverse effect is only evident in extrastriate cortex. This areal separation possibly endows the brain with the flexibility to switch between exploiting already available information and emphasizing the new. Taken together, my data show that conscious perception and its neuronal correlates display a remarkable degree of flexibility and plasticity, which should be taken into account in future theories of consciousness.
- Differential effects of high memory load and high item similarity on short-term recognition : an event-related potential study (2011)
- Working memory (WM) contributes to countless activities during everyday live: reading, holding a conversation, making tea and so on. The core processes of WM comprise the phases of encoding, maintenance and retrieval. Successful recognition of stored objects requires several subprocesses such as stimulus encoding and evaluation, memory search and the organisation of a decision and a response. Much research has focused on encoding and maintenance of information but little interest has been directed to the retrieval of information. This is why the present dissertation investigated the neuronal correlates of retrieval of previously stored information and its modulation by load and probe-item similarity. Here memory load and probe-item similarity were manipulated in order to investigate the neuronal correlates of the recognition process using electroencephalography (EEG). We tested the hypothesis recognition is influenced differently by probe-item similarity and by memory load and that these factors are re Effected by distinct neuronal correlates. Furthermore we tested whether distinct neuronal responses could be related to a summed similarity model. The analysis of high-density ERP recordings showed both a load effect (load 1>load 3) and a similarity effect In addition, there was an interaction between load and similarity. The load effect was present during the whole epoch and did not change over time, whereas the similarity effect showed two distinct components between 300-600ms. In contrast to the load effect the similarity effect changed its sign over time. For the rest component, match probes elicited the strongest ERP responses, whereas for the second component dissimilar probes yielded the strongest ERP responses. The timing of the similarity effect corresponded well with the early and late P3b complex. The P3b complex is associated with stimulus categorisation and evaluation (early subcomponent) and memory search and criterion testing (late subcomponent). The results suggest that the difficulty of a task is not only determined by load but also enhanced by probe-item similarity. Since increasing the number of samples (i.e. memory load) can also increase the probe-item similarity (i.e. the probability that one of the samples is perceptually similar to the probe), an independent manipulation of both factors is indispensable to disentangle their particular impact on short-term recognition. Furthermore, I propose that the two distinct neural correlates of the P3b complex reeffects different stages of task processing connected with probe-item similarity. As suggested by summed similarity VI models, these components might reflect the subprocesses of similarity summation (early P3b) and criterion testing (late P3b).
- Psychological compensation in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder - application of a theoretical framework (2014)
- The term compensation is widely used in every-day language, in psychological research, and also discussed in the context of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, few studies have looked at psychological compensation in ADHD systematically and theory based. Compensation can be inferred if a deficit (i.e., a mismatch between skill and environmental demand) is counterbalanced by the investment of more effort, the utilization of latent or the acquisition of new skills. Based on the application of a theoretical framework (Bäckman & Dixon, 1992) to ADHD, I developed the following aims: (1) To reassess the awareness of deficits in ADHD and (2) to explore psychological compensation in a group with ADHD that accomplishes high achievement. The results of Study 1 showed that children with ADHD did not overestimate their own skills compared to a group matched for academic achievement. In Study 2, college students with ADHD reported higher achievement motivation compared to college students without ADHD. Furthermore, results indicated that women with ADHD compensate by adopting compensatory effort and obsessive-compulsive behavior. Study 3 showed that female college students compensate for possible deficits in solving a flanker task by being overly cautious, which may reflect more obsessive-compulsive behavior. The studies are discussed within the framework of psychological compensation. They add to the understanding of compensation in ADHD by (1) the reassessment of awareness of deficits in ADHD by including a group without ADHD but with low achievement, and by (2) suggesting that overly cautious behavior could be a form of psychological compensation in females with ADHD enabling them to enter college, leading to a late diagnosis and to good performance in cognitive tasks (i.e., flanker task). Limitations are, that I did not test all components of the theoretical framework in one study and that I did not include adults with ADHD that did not enter college in Study 2 and 3 to test if achievement motivation or overly cautious behavior explains why some adults with ADHD gain admittance to higher education and show good performance in cognitive tasks and others do not.
- The contribution of spectral and temporal information to vowel length perception in German in children and adults (2015)
- In the present work, mismatch negativity (MMN) was used to examine the contribution of spectral vs. temporal perceptual features to vowel length discrimination in children and adults. Three age groups (adults vs. 9-10 years vs. 10-11 years olds) have been taken to examine developmental effects on vowel length perception. Natural (i.e., spectrotemporal) vowel length differences were compared with (artificially modified) stimulus pairs varying only in temporal or spectral characteristics to contrast spectral, temporal and spectrotemporal processing. The result indicates that, while adults integrate spectral and temporal aspects of the speech signal in an additive way, children of 9-10 years of age sequentially process both features. However, vowel length processing is found to become adultlike at the age of 10-11 years.