Adaptation by binding: a learning account of cognitive control

Trends Cogn Sci. 2009 Jun;13(6):252-7. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2009.02.007. Epub 2009 May 8.


Cognitive control refers to the ability to repress our instantaneous urges in favor of more appropriate responses. Current debate concerns whether cognitive control effects that are studied in the laboratory (e.g. Stroop tasks) actually reflect the operation of a cognitive control system (adaptation theory) or instead merely reflect side effects of feature binding processes (binding theory). The two perspectives can be integrated by conceptualizing cognitive control as resulting from interactions between binding processes (as instantiated in Hebbian learning) and arousal. Conflict situations such as Stroop incongruent-stimuli lead to arousal and noradrenalin release throughout the brain, which facilitates binding between task-relevant cortical areas. Our proposal emphasizes an intimate link between cognitive and emotional processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Models, Psychological