Exploring associations between proactive and reactive control

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Cognitive control is the act of regulating, coordinating, and sequencing mental processes in accordance with internally maintained behavioral goals (Braver, 2012; Norman & Shallice, 1986). The Dual Mechanisms of Control (DMC) theory argues that variations in cognitive control are driven by two distinct operating modes, proactive control and reactive control (Braver et al., 2007). Proactive control is defined as an anticipatory and effortful attentional strategy that actively sustains task-relevant information before the occurrence of a cognitively demanding event (Miller & Cohen, 2001). In contrast, reactive control is an automatic process that is passively maintained and relies upon high-conflict, or trigger, events to reactivate task-relevant information after the occurrence of a cognitively demanding event (Jacoby, Kelley, & McElree, 1999). Traditional models of cognitive control focus on reactive control initiating proactive control (Botvinick, Nystrom, Fissell, Carter, & Cohen, 1999). Yet, recent research suggests the possibility of shifting to a predominantly proactive strategy with less reliance on reactive processing (Braver, Paxton, Locke, & Barch, 2009; Schmid, Kleiman, Amodio, 2015). However, little work has analyzed a direct relation between continuously sustained proactive control and reduced input from reactive control. In addition, affective variables might impact the ability to shift between proactive and reactive modes of control (Braver, Gray, & Burgess, 2007). Individuals high in trait levels of worry exhibit heightened reactive control and reduced proactive control compared to controls (Moser, Moran, Schroder, Donnellan, & Yeung, 2013). In the current study, participants performed a cognitively-demanding task while neural correlates of proactive and reactive control were measured. Self-reported levels of trait worry were also collected. In agreement with a proactive model of cognitive control, the results of this experiment indicated that greater levels of sustained proactive control predicted decreased reactive processing. However, this relation was moderated by trait-worry such that enhanced proactive control only predicted decreased reactive control when levels of trait worry were low.




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