A computational perspective on the roles of affect in cognitive control

Int J Psychophysiol. 2020 May:151:25-34. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2020.02.001. Epub 2020 Feb 4.


Previous work has demonstrated that cognitive control can be influenced by affect, both when it is tied to the anticipated outcomes for cognitive performance (integral affect) and when affect is induced independently of performance (incidental affect). However, the mechanisms through which such interactions occur remain debated, in part because they have yet to be formalized in a way that allows experimenters to test quantitative predictions of a putative mechanism. To generate such predictions, we leveraged a recent model that determines cognitive control allocation by weighing potential costs and benefits in order to determine the overall Expected Value of Control (EVC). We simulated potential accounts of how integral and incidental affect might influence this valuation process, including whether incidental positive affect influences how difficult one perceives a task to be, how effortful it feels to exert control, and/or the marginal utility of succeeding at the task. We find that each of these accounts makes dissociable predictions regarding affect's influence on control allocation and measures of task performance (e.g., conflict adaptation, switch costs). We discuss these findings in light of the existing empirical findings and theoretical models. Collectively, this work grounds existing theories regarding affect-control interactions, and provides a method by which specific predictions of such accounts can be confirmed or refuted based on empirical data.

Keywords: Affect; Cognitive control; Computational modelling; Conflict adaptation; Motivation; Task-switching.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology
  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology*
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reward