Negative Reinforcement Effects on Neural Mechanisms of Cognitive Control (NIDA)

This proposal explores the neural and psychological mechanisms that underlie the relationship between reinforcement and cognitive control. This relationship has special relevance for our understanding of substance abuse, since this condition represents a fundamental impairment of self-regulation, involving both cognitive and motivational components. Although rapid progress has been made in characterizing the neural circuitry of both reinforcement and cognitive control, these two domains are typically studied in isolation. The current proposal provides an innovative and theoretically-driven approach to this issue, by examining how approach and avoidance-motivational drives might provide dissociable modulatory influences over cognitive control. Specifically, in a large-sample neuroimaging study we will test how pleasant and aversive liquid incentives differentially impact brain activity and behavior during performance of working memory tasks with high cognitive control demands. Critically, we will be guided by two distinct theoretical frameworks that have emerged from our prior work: the Dual Mechanisms of Control model and the Hemispheric Interaction model. These two frameworks provide clear-cut and testable hypotheses regarding the double dissociations predicted  under positive and negative reinforcement (incentive) conditions. A second key focus of the project will be on the moderating role of individual differences in personality traits linked to risk for substance abuse. We will test the hypothesis that some of these traits may be associated with suboptimal cognitive control responses adopted under conditions of avoidance motivation. This work promises to have substantial translational impact, by filling an important gap in knowledge regarding the neural substrates of reinforcement – cognition interactions, and their role in substance abuse risk.

NIDA Grant,Braver, T., PI Grant R21AG30795

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