Converging evidence suggests the perception of control - or the collective beliefs in one's ability to exert control over the environment and to produce desired results - is integral for an individual's general wellbeing. Research has demonstrated that the presence or absence of perceived control can have a significant impact on the regulation of emotion, behavior, and physiology. In fact, the absence of perceived control is believed to be at the core of many psychiatric disorders, such as substance abuse. However, the psychological and neural mechanisms underlying the experience of control and its impact on emotion regulation are not well understood. The proposed research attempts to fill this gap in our knowledge by examining the cognitive and affective processes mediating the experience of control in three fMRI studies. In the proposed studies, perceived control is operationalized as the opportunity to exercise choice, since choice behavior is the means by which organisms exert control over their environments (e.g. selecting where to focus attention in the visual field). By exploiting this simple, yet fundamental basis of perceiving control, we can determine how the perception of control influences our ability to regulate emotional responses to appetitive and aversive stimuli. In Expt 1, we characterize the hedonic experience of choice (Aim 1) by examining brain activity during the anticipation of choice (vs. non-choice), controlling for potential confounding variables related to decision-making, such as differences in response selection, motor preparation, and uncertainty of outcomes. Expt 2 builds on this choice paradigm to assess how the affective experience of choice is modulated by the valence and risk of the potential outcomes. Expt 3 was designed to determine whether prior experience with control and choice moderates emotional responses to future potential rewards and punishments (Aim 2). To test this hypothesis, we will experimentally manipulate prior choice experience between two subject groups and then examine the behavioral and brain responses to potential monetary rewards and punishments under choice and no-choice conditions. We expect the perception of control, as it is exercised through choice behavior, to recruit corticostriatal brain regions involved in the experience of reward and regulation of negative effect.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed research will provide the foundation for understanding how the presence or absence of the perception of control can influence our ability to regulate emotional responses. Thus, the proposed research has significant implications for understanding the psychological and neural mechanisms related to the origin, maintenance, and potential treatment of many psychiatric disorders and substance abuse.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F02A-J (20))
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Bjork, James M
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Rutgers University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Leotti, Lauren A; Delgado, Mauricio R (2014) The value of exercising control over monetary gains and losses. Psychol Sci 25:596-604
Leotti, Lauren A; Delgado, Mauricio R (2011) The inherent reward of choice. Psychol Sci 22:1310-8
Leotti, Lauren A; Iyengar, Sheena S; Ochsner, Kevin N (2010) Born to choose: the origins and value of the need for control. Trends Cogn Sci 14:457-63