Our long-range goal is to contribute to a better understanding of the basic mechanisms by which emotional/motivational and cognitive brain systems interact in the generation of complex behavior. The objective of the present application is to understand the mechanisms of interaction between these systems during tasks that recruit "top-down control", including inhibitory control and conflict processing. The project's central hypothesis is that affective significance confers a competitive advantage toward the processing of emotion-laden information (relative to neutral items) and that emotional stimuli are prioritized as a function of the stimuli's affective history and affective context. We will test our hypotheses by pursuing three specific aims, which will employ a combination of behavioral and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies:
Aim #1 : Determine how inhibition interacts with emotion;
Aim #2 : Determine how conflict processing interacts with emotion;
Aim #3 : Determine how executive function interacts with motivation. Affective significance will be manipulated in a number of ways, including aversive conditioning and reward/punishment (via monetary incentives). Throughout these aims, we will attempt to identify the brain networks underlying interactions between emotion and cognition. We anticipate that an item's affective history and context will bias processing in favor of emotion-laden information, and that such bias will be manifested in multiple ways across behavior, and, correspondingly, across multiple levels of the brain. Importantly, by providing a better understanding of cognitive-emotional interactions during normal behavior, our research can help understand the mechanisms that potentially go awry in many debilitating mental illnesses.
The proposed research will advance the knowledge database concerning the basic mechanisms of how cognition and emotion/motivation interact in the domains of inhibitory control and conflict processing in humans. Such knowledge is of importance because many neurological disorders and mental illnesses are characterized by profound deficits in cognitive and emotional interactions, including epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, autism, major depression, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia.
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