Dual-systems theories explain lapses in self-control in terms of a conflict between automatic and deliberative modes of behavioral control. Numerous studies have now tested whether the brain areas that control behavior are organized in a manner consistent with dual-systems models. Brain regions directly associated with the mesolimbic dopamine system, the nucleus accumbens and ventromedial prefrontal cortex in particular, capture some of the features assumed by automatic processing. Regions in the lateral prefrontal cortex are more closely linked to deliberative processing and the exertion of self-control in the suppression of impulses. While identifying these regions crudely supports dual-systems theories, important modifications to what constitutes automatic and deliberative behavioral control are also suggested. Experiments have identified various means by which automatic processes may be sculpted. Additional work decomposes deliberative processes into component functions such as generalized working memory, reappraisal of emotional stimuli, and prospection. The importance of deconstructing dual-systems models into specific cognitive processes is clear for understanding and treating addiction. We discuss intervention possibilities suggested by recent research, and focus in particular on cognitive training approaches to bolster deliberative control processes that may aid quit attempts.
Keywords: cognitive training; dopamine system; dual systems; executive function; fMRI; prefrontal cortex.
© 2014 New York Academy of Sciences.