Cognitive Control

The main area of research in the Cognitive Control and Psychopathology (CCP) Lab examines the psychological and neural mechanisms by which people actively maintain information such as goals, instructions, plans, or specific proior events for short periods of time, and use this information to appropriately guide and control their behavior. This concept, known as cognitive control, is central to our notions of consciousness, agency, and will. Higher-level cognitive functions such as attention and working memory are thought to rely critically on control processes. Conversely, the loss of cognitive control is a major component of many neuropychiatric diseases, such as schizophrenia.

We believe determining the mechanisms of cognitive control is one of the fundamental questions for psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy. In pursuit of this goal, we are currently using computational modeling and convergent neuroscience methods (including functional neuroimaging) to investigate the neural basis of cognitive control. CCP Lab research thus far has resulted in the development of new theories regarding the unique functional contributions of three distinct neural systems to normal cognitive control: the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the dopamine (DA) neurotransmitter system, and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC).

A current research goal is to examine the contributions of distinct control processes and their neural substrates in a variety of cognitive domains, including working memory, episodic memory, response inhibition, selective attention, task-switching, categorization and decision-making. These studies aim to provide a more comprehensive picture of the way that cognitive control interacts with task-specific processes. In particular, the CCP lab is developing a new theory of cognitive control that significantly extends our prior models because of its general applicability. In this theory, we suggest that there are two distinct operating modes of cognitive control, where each is subserved by a separate set of mechanisms. These dual control modes are termed proactive and reactive control. As the name suggests, the proactive mode is prospective or future-oriented, helping to prepare the cognitive system for upcoming events through the predictive use of context. In contrast, reactive control is retrospective, responding to the presence of salient or imperative events by engaging control only if needed, via reactivation of previously stored information. Performance in most cognitive tasks relies upon a mixture of proactive and reactive control, but that biases towards one mode or another can be influenced by a number of different factors, including a) the specific (and often subtle) characteristics of the task situation; b) impaired function in the neural systems underlying one mode or another; and c) individual differences in cognitive capabilities and motivational disposition.

Grant Abstracts Relevant to this Project
Computational Modelling
Prefrontal Cortex
Individual Differences
Anterior Cingulate Cortex