Human adaptability is defined by the flexibility and sophistication with which we tailor our behavior in the service of our goals. Goal pursuit is defined by controlled performance, but depends on past experience and serves to optimize future outcomes; both cognitive control and long-term memory processes are central to supporting this behavior. Motivation for approach vs. avoidance-oriented goals might lead to distinct processing modes leading to different adaptive behaviors as well as differential memory representations supporting future goal pursuit. While motivation profoundly shapes both cognitive control and long-term memory processes depending on prefrontal cortex (PFC) and medial temporal lobe (MTL) systems, motivated control and memory have largely been studied in isolation, despite evidence that these processes interact. The goal of this Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) proposal is to support student research training in neuroimaging and neurostimulation measures characterizing the mechanism by which approach versus avoidance motivation adaptively influence cognitive control and subsequent episodic memory.
In Aim 1, we will use fMRI to investigate how motivational mode influences cognitive control and subsequent memory in terms of both behavioral performance and underlying PFC-MTL interactions.
In Aim 2, TMS stimulation to PFC during motivated control task performance will test for a causal role of PFC in configuring downstream approach vs. avoidance motivation- specific MTL systems, altering subsequent memory representations.
In Aim 3, we will investigate how individual variance in trait anxiety may determine what motivational mode is spontaneously engaged during reward pursuit, with downstream consequences for control and memory performance. The proposed research will advance a basic biological model of motivation-cognition interaction and its potential disruption by anxiety, laying the foundation for translational research targeted at rescuing cognitive and motivational functioning in psychopathology. Additionally, this proposal will generate intensive, multimethod research experiences for students in affective and cognitive neuroscience and enhance the research training environment at the University of Denver, consistent with the goals of the AREA funding mechanism.
Impairment in motivational and cognitive functioning characterizes a range of psychiatric disorders. The proposed projects will provide new insights into the neurobehavioral mechanisms of motivated cognitive control and memory as a function of approach and avoidance goal states, as well as examining individual differences as potential modulators of these processes. This research will serve as a foundation to investigations of impaired motivation-cognition interactions and adaptive functioning in depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders.