New publication: Cognitive Effort Modulates Connectivity between Dorsal Anterior Cingulate Cortex and Task-Relevant Cortical Areas

Abstract

Investment of cognitive effort is required in everyday life and has received ample attention in recent neurocognitive frameworks. The neural mechanism of effort investment is thought to be structured hierarchically, with dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) at the highest level, recruiting task-specific upstream areas. In the current fMRI study, we tested whether dACC is generally active when effort demand is high across tasks with different stimuli, and whether connectivity between dACC and task-specific areas is increased depending on the task requirements and effort level at hand. For that purpose, a perceptual detection task was administered that required male and female human participants to detect either a face or a house in a noisy image. Effort demand was manipulated by adding little (low effort) or much (high effort) noise to the images. Results showed a network of dACC, anterior insula (AI), and intraparietal sulcus (IPS) to be more active when effort demand was high, independent of the performed task (face or house detection). Importantly, effort demand modulated functional connectivity between dACC and face-responsive or house-responsive perceptual areas, depending on the task at hand. This shows that dACC, AI, and IPS constitute a general effort-responsive network and suggests that the neural implementation of cognitive effort involves dACC-initiated sensitization of task-relevant areas.

Aben, B., Buc Calderon, C., Van den Bussche, E., & Verguts, T. (2020). Cognitive Effort Modulates Connectivity between Dorsal Anterior Cingulate Cortex and Task-Relevant Cortical Areas. Journal Of Neuroscience, 40, 3838-3848. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2948-19.2020

New publication: The Interplay of Parent and Child Coping Responses in Understanding Child Functioning in the Context of Living With a Parent With or Without Chronic Pain.

Abstract

Pain disorders tend to run in families, and children of individuals with chronic pain have been found to report lower functioning. Drawing upon a social learning perspective, the current study examined how diverse maternal pain coping responses (ie, pain catastrophizing and distraction) may, via corresponding child pain coping responses, act as a vulnerability or protective factor for child functioning in the context of parental chronic pain (CP). A cross-sectional study was conducted in mothers with CP and their pain-free child (N=100) and mothers without CP and their pain-free child (N=74). Moderated mediation analyses were performed to test whether associations between maternal coping responses and child functioning (ie, somatic symptoms, physical functioning, and psychosocial health) were mediated by corresponding child coping responses and whether these associations were moderated by the presence or absence of maternal CP. Maternal pain catastrophizing was indirectly related to more somatic symptoms, lower physical functioning, and lower psychosocial health in their child via child pain catastrophizing. Relationships were moderated by the presence or absence of maternal CP, such that mediated relationships were only found in mothers without CP and their child. No (in)direct relationships between maternal distraction, child distraction, and child functioning were observed. The current findings demonstrated that child functioning was associated with maternal and child pain catastrophizing, but only in children of mothers without CP. No evidence was found in support of maternal pain coping responses as vulnerability or protective factors in the context of parental CP.

Van Lierde, E., Goubert, L., Lammens, T., Ben Brahim, L., Van den Bussche, E., & Vervoort, T. (2020). The Interplay of Parent and Child Coping Responses in Understanding Child Functioning in the Context of Living With a Parent With or Without Chronic Pain. Clinical Journal Of Pain, 36(4), 238-248. doi:10.1097/AJP.0000000000000801

New publication: Learning to fear pain after observing another’s pain: An experimental study in schoolchildren

Abstract

Children of individuals with chronic pain have an increased vulnerability to experience pain problems, possibly through observation of pain in their parents. As pain‐related fear (PRF) is a critical factor in the development and maintenance of chronic pain, the current experimental study examined the acquisition of PRF through observational learning and subsequent extinction after first‐hand experience of the feared stimulus. Healthy children (8–16 years) observed either their mother or a stranger performing two cold pressor tasks (CPT) filled with coloured water. In a differential conditioning procedure, one colour (CS+) was combined with genuine painful facial expressions and the other colour (CS−) with neutral facial expressions. Following this observation phase, children performed both CPTs (10°C) themselves. Children expected the CS+ to be more painful than the CS− and they reported being more afraid and hesitant to immerse in the CS+ compared to the CS−. Moreover, this fear was reflected in children’s level of arousal in anticipation of CPT performance. This learned association extinguished after performing both CPTs. Effects were not moderated by whether the child observed their mother or a stranger, by the child’s pain catastrophizing, trait PRF or trait anxiety. Remarkably, learning effects increased when the child perceived a larger difference between the model’s painful and neutral facial expressions. This study provides evidence for observational learning of PRF and subsequent extinction in schoolchildren. This acquisition of PRF by observing parental pain may contribute to vulnerabilities in children of parents with chronic pain.

Significance

Children may acquire pain‐related fear by observing pain in others and this learned fear can diminish after first‐hand experience. Remarkably, observational learning did not depend on the children’s relationship with the model, but it did depend on the intensity of pain that is perceived. A better understanding of the impact of observing (parental) pain may help clarify the intergenerational transmission of risk for pain and inform the development of preventive programs.

Van Lierde, E., Goubert, L., Vervoort, T., Hughes, G., & Van den Bussche, E. (2019). Learning to fear pain after observing another’s pain: An experimental study in schoolchildren. European Journal Of Pain, 24, 791-806. doi:10.1002/ejp.1529

New publication: Context-dependent modulation of cognitive control involves different temporal profiles of fronto-parietal activity

Abstract:
To efficiently deal with quickly changing task demands, we often need to organize our behaviour on different time scales. For example, to ignore irrelevant and select relevant information, cognitive control might be applied in reactive (short time scale) or proactive (long time scale) mode. These two control modes play a pivotal role in cognitive-neuroscientific theorizing but the temporal dissociation of the underlying neural mechanisms is not well established empirically. In this fMRI study, a cognitive control task was administered in contexts with mainly congruent (MC) and mainly incongruent (MI) trials to induce reactive and proactive control, respectively. Based on behavioural profiles, we expected cognitive control in the MC context to be characterized by transient activity (measured on-trial) in task-relevant areas. In the MI context, cognitive control was expected to be reflected in sustained activity (measured in the intertrial interval) in similar or different areas. Results show that in the MC context, on-trial transient activity (incongruent – congruent trials) was increased in fronto-parietal areas, compared to the MI context. These areas included dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and intraparietal sulcus (IPS). In the MI context, sustained activity in similar fronto-parietal areas during the intertrial interval was increased, compared to the MC context. These results illuminate how context-dependent reactive and proactive control subtend the same brain areas but operate on different time scales.

The results of this study, conducted by Bart Aben, Cristian Buc Calderon, Laurens Van de Cruyssen, Doerte Picksack, Eva Van den Bussche and Tom Verguts are published in NeuroImage.

Aben, B., Buc Calderon, C., Van der Cruyssen, L., Picksak, D., Van den Bussche, E., & Verguts, T. (2019). Context-dependent modulation of cognitive control involves different temporal profiles of fronto-parietal activity. NeuroImage, DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.02.004.

The article is available here.