A Quantification of the Time Scale of Cognitive Control

“In this study, the autors have successfully applied a novel method to identify the time scale of cognitive control.
Shorter time scales of control were demonstrated when conflict was rare and when the context was volatile.
This is in line with theories assuming transient control (i.e., control over a shorter time scale) in rare-conflict
and volatile conditions, and sustained control (i.e., control over longer time scales) when conflict is more frequent.
The method offers promising and straightforward opportunities to quantify variations in the time scale of control between individuals and conditions” (Aben et al., in press).

The results of this study, conducted by Bart Aben, Tom Verguts and Eva Van den Bussche are published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.

Aben, B., Verguts, T., & Van den Bussche, E. (2017). Beyond Trial-by-Trial Adaptation: A Quantification of the Time Scale of Cognitive Control. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. [pdf] [R code .rar]

Metacognitive awareness drives the selection of low-demand contexts

“In three experiments, the authors provided evidence that the subjective experience that a task is difficult to perfom in a high-demand context plays a role in shaping the preference for a low-demand context. They conclude that the avoidance of cognitive demand depends on the metacognitive appreciation of the difference in cognitive demand” (Desender et al., 2017)

The results of this study, conducted by Kobe Desender, Cristian Buc Calderon, Filip Van Opstal and Eva Van den Bussche have been recently published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.

Desender, K., Buc Calderon, C., Van Opstal, F., & Van den Bussche, E. (2017). Avoiding the conflict: Metacognitive awareness drives the selection of low-demand contexts Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance.

The article is available Here

Invitation for talk by Prof. Patrick Haggard

The Cognitive Psychology (COPS) group of the Department of Experimental and Applied Psychology (VUB) would like to invite you to a talk by Prof. Patrick Haggard (UCL).

When? June 9th at 10.30
Where? VUB, Campus Etterbeek, building C, 3rd floor, room 3C204

We hope to see you there!

Prof. Patrick Haggard is a neuroscientist and current Deputy Director of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, where he is a professor in the department of Psychology.

Haggard earned his BA in Natural Sciences (Psychology) from the University of Cambridge, where he also earned his PhD. His research interests include voluntary action, motor cognition, touch, somatosensation, and self-representation. Haggard’s current projects are investigations into the neurophysiology of ‘free will’–cortical activity associated with initiation of voluntary movement, how saccadic eye movements influence conscious visual perception, and the role of cognitive body image in tactile sensation. His research group works on the relation between brain activity and conscious experience in sensorimotor systems. Work on voluntary actions investigates the neural basis of conscious intention, and the brain processes that allow the motor system to link actions to external effects (‘sense of agency’).

Other projects focus on the neural substrate of our experience of our own bodies (touch, and proprioception). The overall aim is to link high-level cognitive processes to conscious experience on the one hand, and to specific circuits and processes in the cortex on the other. Good psychophysical measurement is a central pillar of most experiments, and is combined with a range of methods for studying brain function, including TMS, EEG, ERP and fMRI.

Bart Aben won the Best Poster Award at BAPS 2016!

Congratulations to Bart Aben, who won the Best Poster Award at the Annual Meeting of the Belgian Association for Psychological Science (Thomas More, May 24th, 2016).

His contribution: Effects of reward on cognitive control when conflict is temporally unpredictable

Link to the poster


Abstract: Cognitive control – the ability to flexibly adjust behavior to situational demands, for example when faced with conflict – is thought to be a combination of transient, on-the-fly control, and sustained, anticipatory control (Braver, 2012). When a potentially conflicting target is temporally predictable (i.e., intertrial intervals [ITIs] are fixed), there is no necessity to sustain control throughout the ITI. In this case, an alternative strategy could be to routinely activate transient control only when the target is expected. When the temporal predictability of the target is low, this strategy is no longer effective and control should be sustained throughout the ITI. However, it has been argued that this kind of cognitive control is effortful (Braver, 2012; Shenhav, Botvinick, & Cohen, 2013). It has also been shown that control can be boosted by reward (Botvinick & Braver, 2015). We therefore hypothesized that when intertrial intervals vary and no reward is offered, control is largest at the average ITI, reflecting a transient activation of control when the target is expected on average. However, increasing motivation by offering performance contingent rewards should lead to steady control on all ITIs, reflecting a sustained control mode. Preliminary results show that, although reward improved subjects’ general performance, it did not interact with ITI or congruency. Performance was also affected by ITI: a quartic trend showed that performance was best at the average ITI, i.e., when the average predictability of the target is largest. These results suggest that sustained control was applied steadily over all ITIs, both in rewarded and unrewarded blocks. However, since reward had no effect on control, this conclusion remains speculative. In fact, the reward schedule with separate dynamical thresholds for congruent and incongruent trials in combination with the equal proportion of both trial types may have left no room for specific adjustments in control (i.e., increased effort on incongruent trials) in the reward blocks. Instead, this may have “forced” subjects to become increasingly faster on both trial types.

Nieuwe publicatie in Neuropsychologia


Een onderzoek van Kobe Desender, doctoraatsstudent bij COPS, is gepubliceerd in het wetenschappelijke tijdschrift Neuropsychologia. In deze studie werd via EEG metingen taak-gerelateerde neurale activiteit gedissocieerd van neurale activiteit gelinkt aan metacognitie.

Het artikel is hier te downloaden.

Desender, K., Van Opstal, F., Hughes, G., & Van den Bussche, E. (2016). The temporal dynamics of metacognition: Dissociating task-related activity from later metacognitive processing. Neuropsychologia, 82, 54-64.

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