Prof. Dr. Eva Van den Bussche
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Department of Psychology
B – 1050 Brussel
phone : +32-(0)2-629 14 82
fax : +32-(0)2-629 24 89
url : http://homepages.vub.ac.be/~evdbussc/
New windows to cognitive control: the effects of attentional load and consciousness on control mode
PhD student: Bart Aben (2nd promotor: Prof. Tom Verguts, UGent)
To overcome situations with conflicting information (e.g., two arrows pointing in different directions) we need to exert cognitive control. We can do this by adapting to the situation immediately after detecting the conflict (i.e., reactive control). However, in situations where there’s much conflict, it is more effective to keep track of previously encountered conflict and use this information to prepare yourself for future conflict (i.e., proactive control). This kind of control requires more attentional resources (i.e., you need to attend and remember the previous conflict situations). It may also require conscious awareness of previous conflict. In this project, we propose a new method to study these different types of control. We will examine how many past events people use (i.e., the “window”) to determine their current control behavior in different conflicting situations. A small window indicates that the control mode is only based on very recent events. A large window indicates that it is also based on events in the more distant past. We expect that this window narrows with increasing attentional load and in unconscious situations. This should also be reflected in brain areas associated to cognitive control, such as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). The method we propose has not been applied to cognitive control yet, offers high flexibility, and can easily include other factors that might affect cognitive control.
The recruitment dynamics of cognitive control in insomnia
PhD student: Charlotte Muscarella (2nd promotor: Prof. Olivier Mairesse, VUB; Co-promotor: Dr. Gethin Hughes, University of Essex)
Insomnia patients report severe deficits in cognitive functioning. However, both behavioral and neurological research on these complaints remains remarkable scarce and inconclusive. The Dual Mechanisms of Control theory proposes that reduced cognitive efficiency might be caused by changes in the temporal dynamics of the neural recruitment of cognitive control mechanisms. Cognitivecontrol reflects our ability to plan a new strategy, evaluate it, control its execution and correct possible errors. More specifically, it is hypothesized that insomnia patients have difficulty maintaining task goals to anticipate and prevent interference before it occurs. Based on this theory, we use a more dynamic approach in the current project in order to shed light on how insomniacs recruit cognitive control and under which circumstances its efficiency fails. Furthermore, our project aims to explore whether these biased patterns of neural activation are reversible and can be trained. By incorporating a cognitive strategy training, we will examine whether a shift towards a more efficient cognitive control recruitment can be established in insomniacs. With this project we aim to increase our understanding of the recruitment dynamics of cognitive control in insomniacs and its flexibility. Consequently, these insights can provide promising indications with regards to cognitive interventions in clinical practice.
The familial transmission of pain: the role of observational learning in the parent-child dyad
PhD student: Elke Van Lierde (2nd promotor: Prof. Liesbet Goubert, UGent; Co-promotor: Dr. Gethin Hughes, University of Essex)
Although research has demonstrated that chronic pain tends to run in families, the underlying mechanisms are still unclear. In this project, we will focus on psychological processes that can make children of chronic pain sufferers more vulnerable to develop chronic pain themselves. According to the fear-avoidance model, three processes are considered to be pivotal in the development and sustainment of chronic pain in adults and children: pain catastrophizing (i.e., the tendency to exaggerate the threat value of pain and perceived inability to cope with pain), pain-related fear (i.e., an emotional fear reaction to pain-related stimuli) and hypervigilance (i.e., heightened selective attention) to pain. Extensive research has shown that a vicious cycle of pain, catastrophizing, fear, attention to pain and disability is involved in chronic pain. We aim to investigate how these processes develop in children. In particular, we will study the influences of observing important social models (i.e., parent) on children’s responses to pain. This way, we will extend preliminary research results demonstrating the role of observational learning in the context of pain. The aims of this project are to investigate how observing a parent’s pain can (1) induce pain-related fear, (2) heighten vigilance to pain and (3) alter the processing and experience of pain in children. In addition, moderating influences of pre-existing pain catastrophizing and pain-related fear on these effects are studied.
Cognitive control: Conscious, unconscious, proactive, and reactive
(Co-promotor: Prof. Tom Verguts, UGent)
Consciousness remains a mysterious topic which receives massive attention from psychologists, philosophers and neuroscientists. Despite the long research tradition, the function of consciousness remains unclear. One way to investigate which processes critically require consciousness, is to compare conscious versus unconscious processing. A promising domain to implement this approach is cognitive control. Cognitive control entails our abilities to plan a new strategy, evaluate it, control its execution, and correct possible errors. This has often been exclusively associated with consciousness, although recent data suggest otherwise. Cognitive control therefore provides a fruitful domain to explore this debated issue. Two types of cognitive control can be distinguished. Reactive control occurs in direct response to an encountered problem or error, whereas proactive control entails planning ahead of possible problems. In the current project, we first, and for the first time, rigorously test at the behavioral level whether unconscious reactive control is possible and contrast it to conscious reactive control. Second, we examine whether proactive control is also possible at an unconscious level. Third, we investigate the neural correlates of reactive and proactive control, again making sure we clearly distinguish conscious from unconscious trials.
Unconscious cognitive control
PhD student: Kobe Desender (Co-promotor: Dr. Filip Van Opstal, ULB)
In order to define the borders of unconscious processing, it has been argued that cognitive control is a set of strategic operations exclusively associated with consciousness. The prefrontal cortex is known to play a crucial role in cognitive control, and consequently, most theories state that this brain area cannot be activated by an unconscious task. However, in this project, we adopt a more significant role for unconscious processing, and examine whether cognitive control can also be exerted unconsciously. To address this question, we will study a specific form of cognitive control, namely context effects. A paradigm which circumvents theoretical and methodological problems demonstrated for previous studies will be used. In a first part, it will be tested whether an unconscious context can be created at all. We will examine whether the influence of unconscious ambiguous stimuli on response behavior can be altered depending on the context created by other stimuli presented in the experiment. In a second part, it will be tested whether subjects are also able to use these unconscious contexts to improve responding. We will create one context with mainly congruent and one with mainly incongruent trials, and look whether subjects can adapt to these contexts. In a third part, a functional MRI study will be conducted, to investigate whether, contrary to predictions of current theories, the prefrontal cortex is involved in the adaptation to unconscious contexts.
Subliminal influencing in everyday life and advertising
One of the first examples where unconscious influencing was used, was a study conducted by James Vicary in 1957. He showed the subliminal messages “Drink Coca-cola” and “Eat popcorn” during movies and claimed that the sales of coca-cola and popcorn rose significantly. Later on, Vicary himself admitted that he had falsified the results of his study. Nevertheless, the idea of unconscious influencing has a large impact on the public and the technique is still being used today. The question remains: does it actually work? In an experimental context the existence of subliminal perception is no longer questioned (see Van den Bussche, Van den Noortgate & Reynvoet, 2009 for a recent meta-analysis on masked priming studies). However, generalizing this conclusion made in an experimental context to an everyday life or advertising situation is problematic. There is a lot of controversy about the applicability of unconscious perception in our everyday life. More specifically, the temporal aspects of subliminal priming seem to rule out its applicability outside a laboratory situation. Still, a few recent studies seem to indicate that we can be influenced unconsciously in a real-life situation. Karremans and colleagues (2006), for example, showed that thirsty people who were primed unconsciously with “Lipton Ice” showed an increased choice of the brand and a heightened intention to drink it. In a series of experimental studies we aim to thoroughly and critically examine whether subliminal influencing can indeed be effectively and reliably implemented in everyday life and advertising situations.
PhD Research: The mechanisms of subliminal stimuli: A meta-analysis and new experiments
Can unconsciously presented information influence behavior? This is one of the most controversial questions in the history of psychology. Today, the existence of subliminal perception is largely acknowledged. However, outstanding issues regarding the mechanisms of subliminal stimuli deal with the limits and possibilities of non-conscious processing: how deep can non-conscious information be processed? Does subliminal processing extend to high cognitive levels? The aim of the present doctoral research was to further clarify the mechanisms of subliminal stimuli by shedding light on these remaining important issues by conducting a large-scale meta-analysis and new masked priming experiments. Two different approaches were used to study the mechanisms of subliminal processing. In a first part, several studies were conducted to study the depth of subliminal processing and the factors that determine whether and to which extent subliminal processing will take place (Van den Bussche, Notebaert & Reynoet, in press; Van den Bussche & Reynvoet, 2007; Van den Bussche, Van den Noortgate & Reynvoet, in press). In a second part, we conducted two studies where the effects of certain manipulations were contrasted on a conscious versus an unconscious level in order to gain insights in the differential mechanisms underlying conscious and unconscious processing (Van den Bussche, Hughes & Reynvoet, under revision; Van den Bussche, Segers & Reynvoet, 2008; Van den Bussche & Reynvoet, 2008). When combining all the attained results within this dissertation, we can conclude that unconscious processing does not only exist, it also extends to a sophisticated cognitive level. This dissertation shows that processing unconscious information is not restricted to lower-level processing but is able to extend to semantic processing. We also observed that unconscious information is not only susceptible to several conscious top-down modulations, but it also seems able to exert a form of top-down cognitive control itself. However, it also appears to be the case that certain functions can not (or only poorly) be performed with unconscious information.
Link to my Researchgate page
Desender, K., Van Opstal, F., Hughes, G., & Van den Bussche, E. (in press). The temporal dynamics of metacognition: Dissociating
task-related activity from later metacognitive processes. Neuropsychologia.
Desender, K., Beurms, S., & Van den Bussche, E. (in press). Is mental effort exertion contagious? Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.
Gordts, S., Uzieblo, K., Neumann, C.S., Van den Bussche, E. & Rossi, G. (in press). Construct validity of the Self-Report Psychopathy Scales (SRP-III Full and Short versions) in a community sample. Assessment.
Van Lierde, E., Desender, K., & Van den Bussche, E. (2015). Is conflict adaptation triggered by feature repetitions? An unexpected finding. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, Article 1358.[pdf]
Schmidt, J. R., Notebaert, W., & Van den Bussche, E. (2015). Is conflict adaptation an illusion? Frontiers in Psychology, 6, Article 172.[pdf]
Khatibi, A., Schrooten, M., Bosmans, K., Volders, S., Vlaeyen, J., & Van den Bussche, E. (2015). Sub-optimal presentation of painful facial expressions enhances readiness for action and pain perception following electrocutaneous stimulation. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, Article 913.[pdf]
Desender, K., Van Opstal, F., & Van den Bussche, E. (2014). Feeling the conflict: The crucial role of conflict-experience in adaptation. Psychological Science, 25, 675-683. [pdf]
Coomans, D., Vandenbossche, J., Homblé, K., Van den Bussche, E., Soetens, E., & Deroost, N. (2014). Does consolidation of visuospatial sequence knowledge depend on eye movements? Plos One, 8(9): e103421. [pdf]
Van den Bussche, E., Vermeiren, A., Desender, K., Gevers, W., Hughes, G., Verguts, T., & Reynvoet, B. (2013). Disentangling conscious and unconscious processing: A subjective trial-based assessment approach. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, article 769, 1-8. [pdf]
Muscarella, C., Brintazzoli, G., Gordts, S., Soetens, E., & Van den Bussche, E. (2013). Short- and long-term effects of conscious, minimally conscious and unconscious brand logos. PLoS ONE 8(5):e57738. [pdf]
Desender, K., Van Lierde, E., & Van den Bussche, E. (2013). Comparing conscious and unconscious conflict adaptation. PLoS ONE 8(2):e55976. [pdf]
Helsen, K., Van den Bussche, E., Vlaeyen, J.W.S., & Goubert, L. (2013). Less is more. Confirmatory factor analysis of the Dutch Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale: Comparison of the full and short version. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 44, 21-29.
Sasanguie, D., Van den Bussche, E., & Reynvoet, B. (2012). Predictors for mathematics achievement? Evidence from a longitudinal study. Mind, Brain, and Education, 6, 119-128.
Coomans, D., Deroost, N., Vandenbossche, J., Van den Bussche, E., & Soetens, E. (2012). Visuospatial perceptual sequence learning and eye movements. Experimental Psychology, 59, 279-285.
Desender, K., & Van den Bussche, E. (2012). The magnitude of priming effects is not independent of prime awareness. Reply to Francken, van Gaal & de Lange (2011). Consciousness and Cognition, 21, 1571-1572. [pdf]
Velthuis, M.J., Van den Bussche, E., May, A.M., Gijsen, B.C.M., Nijs, S., & Vlaeyen, J.W.S. (2012). Fear of movement in cancer survivors: Validation of the Modified Tampa Scale of Kinesiophobia—Fatigue. Psycho-oncology, 21, 762-770.
Brintazzoli, G., Soetens, E., Deroost, N., & Van den Bussche, E. (2012). Conscious, but not unconscious, logo priming of brands and related words. Consciousness and Cognition, 21, 824-834. [pdf]
Desender, K., & Van den Bussche, E. (2012). Is consciousness necessary for cognitive control? A state of the art. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, article 3, 1-13. [pdf]
Van den Bussche, E., Smets, K., Sasanguie, D. & Reynvoet, B. (2012). The power of unconscious semantic processing: The effect of semantic relatedness between prime and target on subliminal priming. Psychologica Belgica, 52, 59-70. [pdf]
Sasanguie, D., Defever, E., Van den Bussche, E., & Reynvoet, B. (2011). The reliability of and the relation between non-symbolic numerical distance effects in comparison, same-different judgments and priming. Acta Psychologica, 136, 73-80.
Reynvoet, B., Notebaert, K., & Van den Bussche, E. (2011). The processing of two-digit numbers depends on task instructions. Journal of Psychology, 219, 37-41.
Van den Bussche, E., Hughes, G., Van Humbeeck, N., & Reynvoet, B. (2010). The relation between consciousness and attention: an empirical study using the priming paradigm. Consciousness and Cognition, 19, 86-97. [pdf]
Uzieblo, K., Verschuere, B., Van den Bussche, E., & Crombez, G. (2010). The validity of the Psychopathic Personality Inventory-Revised in a community sample. Assessment, 17, 334-346.
Gheldof, E.L.M, Crombez, G., Van den Bussche, E., Vinck, J., Van Nieuwenhuyse, A., Moens, G., Mairiaux, P., & Vlaeyen, J.W.S. (2010). Pain related fear predicts disability, but not pain severity: A path analytic approach of the fear-avoidance model. European Journal of Pain, 14, 870.e1-870.e9.
Van den Bussche, E., Van den Noortgate W., & Reynvoet, B. (2009). Mechanisms of masked priming: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 452-477.[pdf]
Van den Bussche, E., Notebaert, K. & Reynvoet, B. (2009). Masked primes can be genuinely semantically processed: A picture prime study. Experimental Psychology, 56, 295-300. [pdf]
Reynvoet, B., De Smedt, B., & Van den Bussche, E. (2009). Children’s representation of symbolic magnitude: The development of the priming distance effect. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 103, 480-489.
Van den Bussche, E., & Reynvoet, B. (2009). The mechanisms of masked priming: A state of the art. In E.B. Hartonek (Ed.), Experimental Psychology Research Trends. New York: Nova Science Publishers.
Van den Bussche, E., Segers, G., & Reynvoet, B. (2008). Conscious and unconscious proportion effects in masked priming. Consciousness and Cognition, 17, 1345-1358.[pdf]
Van den Bussche, E., & Reynvoet, B. (2008). The asymmetry between top-down effects and unconscious cognition: Additional issues. Consciousness and Cognition, 17, 1361-1363.[pdf]
Van den Bussche, E., Crombez, G., Eccleston, C., & Sullivan, J.L.M. (2007). Why women prefer epidural analgesia during childbirth: the role of beliefs about epidural analgesia and pain catastrophizing. European Journal of Pain, 11, 275-282.[pdf]
Van den Bussche, E., & Reynvoet, B. (2007). Masked priming effects in semantic categorization are independent of category size. Experimental Psychology, 54, 225-235. [pdf]
De Vlieger, P., Van den Bussche, E., Eccleston, C., & Crombez, G. (2006). Finding a solution to the problem of pain: Conceptual formulation and the development of the Pain Solutions Questionnaire (PaSol). Pain, 123, 285-293.
Gheldof, E.L.M., Vinck, J., Van den Bussche, E., Vlaeyen, J.W.S., Hidding, A., & Crombez, G. (2006). Pain and pain-related fear are associated with functional and social disability in an occupational setting: Evidence of mediation by pain-related fear. European Journal of Pain, 10, 513-525.
Van den Bussche, E. (2005). Boekbespreking: Cognitieve therapie bij chronische pijn. Gedragstherapie, 2, 155-158.
Van den Bussche, E., Goubert, L., & Crombez, G. (2005). Response to Dr. Kudel’s letter to the editor. Pain, 115, 216-217.
Van den Bussche, E., Crombez, G., & Goubert, L. (2004). Vigilantie voor pijn in patiënten met chronische rugpijn: de rol van neuroticisme, catastroferen en pijngerelateerde vrees. Gedragstherapie, 1, 25-43.
For a full list of conference presentations, please click here.
More) en Steven Geysen (Thomas More)
Supervised Master Theses
de emotionele verwerking in psychopathie)
logos) – Winner of the 2013 BAPS Best Thesis Award
related fear and pain intensity in a replicated single-case design)
paradigm) – winner of the 2010 LAPP award for best master thesis