Saturday, February 05, 2011

Research Byte: Why we sometimes struggle with cognitive self-regulation

I think the following "in press" article is important. Why? Because I have been actively involved in reading research to better understand cognitive performance (working memory and executive attention in particular), the IQ Brain Clock (role of mental timing in human performance), and neuro-technology interventions (e.g., Interactive Metronome) that seem to improve cognitive efficiency. Across these different strands of research I have CONSTANTLY run across a number of common factors. In particular, I am constantly finding the dorsolateral pre-frontal cortex (PFC) as being critical to cognitive efficiency (working memory and cognitive processing speed), which in turn impacts intellectual functioning, especially Gf or fluid reasoning. The same brain area is implicated in mental timing and IM-interventions.

The article below continues to suggest a prominent role of the dlPFC, this time in self-regulation behavior. Of importance, IMHO, is the conclusion (near the end of the article) that this may be a domain-general mechanism. This is important, as it is consistent with my hypothesis why neuro-tech IM and other working memory interventions seem to improve performance across vastly different human performance domains. Clearly the dlPFC, and the functions it regulates (working memory, controlled executive attention, mental timing), is important and focal to understanding a number of related areas of research.

Heatherington & Wagner Cognitive neuroscience of self-regulation failure Review Article. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 26 January 2011


Self-regulatory failure is a core feature of many social and mental health problems. Self-regulation can be undermined by failures to transcend overwhelming temptations, negative moods and resource depletion, and when minor lapses in self-control snowball into self-regulatory collapse. Cognitive neuroscience research suggests that successful self-regulation is dependent on top-down control from the prefrontal cortex over subcortical regions involved in reward and emotion. We highlight recent neuroimaging research on self-regulatory failure, the findings of which support a balance model of self-regulation whereby self-regulatory failure occurs whenever the balance is tipped in favor of subcortical areas, either due to particularly strong impulses or when prefrontal function itself is impaired. Such a model is consistent with recent findings in the cognitive neuroscience of addictive behavior, emotion regulation and decision-making.

Click on image to enlarge for better readability.

Article Outline

The advantages of self-control
Self-regulation failure
Negative moods
Lapse-activated consumption
Cue exposure
Self-regulatory resource depletion
Functional neuroimaging studies of self-regulation
Regulation of appetitive behaviors
Regulation of emotions
Regulation of attitudes and prejudice
Prefrontal–subcortical balance model of self-regulation
Why do people fail at self-regulation?
Concluding remarks

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