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The scientific study of choice, aka decision making, willed action or executive functions, has provided plenty of new articles just during the past few weeks. Here we provide some of them. Brain, emotion and decision making: the paradigmatic example of regret Giorgio Coricelli, Raymond J. Dolan, and Angela Sirigu Trends in Cognitive Sciences Volume 11, […]

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Posted June 12, 2007 by thomasr

 
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The scientific study of choice, aka decision making, willed action or executive functions, has provided plenty of new articles just during the past few weeks. Here we provide some of them.

Brain, emotion and decision making: the paradigmatic example of regret

Giorgio Coricelli, Raymond J. Dolan, and Angela Sirigu

Trends in Cognitive Sciences
Volume 11, Issue 6, June 2007, Pages 258-265

Human decisions cannot be explained solely by rational imperatives but are strongly influenced by emotion. Theoretical and behavioral studies provide a sound empirical basis to the impact of the emotion of regret in guiding choice behavior. Recent neuropsychological and neuroimaging data have stressed the fundamental role of the orbitofrontal cortex in mediating the experience of regret. Functional magnetic resonance imaging data indicate that reactivation of activity within the orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala occurring during the phase of choice, when the brain is anticipating possible future consequences of decisions, characterizes the anticipation of regret. In turn, these patterns reflect learning based on cumulative emotional experience. Moreover, affective consequences can induce specific mechanisms of cognitive control of the choice processes, involving reinforcement or avoidance of the experienced behavior.

ScienceDirect

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An information theoretical approach to prefrontal executive function

Etienne Koechlin and Christopher Summerfield

Trends in Cognitive Sciences
Volume 11, Issue 6, June 2007, Pages 229-235

The prefrontal cortex subserves executive control – that is, the ability to select actions or thoughts in relation to internal goals. Here, we propose a theory that draws upon concepts from information theory to describe the architecture of executive control in the lateral prefrontal cortex. Supported by evidence from brain imaging in human subjects, the model proposes that action selection is guided by hierarchically ordered control signals, processed in a network of brain regions organized along the anterior–posterior axis of the lateral prefrontal cortex. The theory clarifies how executive control can operate as a unitary function, despite the requirement that information be integrated across multiple distinct, functionally specialized prefrontal regions.

ScienceDirect

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Where There Is a Way, Is There a Will? The Effect of Future Choices on Self-Control

Uzma Khan and Ravi Dhar

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General
Volume 136, Issue 2, May 2007, Pages 277-288

Choices often involve self-control conflicts such that options that are immediately appealing are less desirable in the long run. In the current research, the authors examine how viewing such a choice as one of a series of similar future choices rather than as an isolated decision decreases the preference for items requiring self-control. The authors show that (a) in a choice between a vice and a virtue, the share choosing vice increases when the decision is presented as one of a series of similar future choices versus when the same choice is viewed in isolation, and (b) the overall share choosing a vice increases when decisions are seen in connection with similar future choices. The findings contrast with the general wisdom that broader choice frames lead to the exercise of greater self-control. The authors propose that the context of similar future choices allows people to optimistically believe that they will choose a virtue in the future choice and hence provides them with a guilt-reducing justification to not exercise self-control in the present.

ScienceDirect

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Metacognition of Agency

Janet Metcalfe and Matthew Jason Greene

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General
Volume 136, Issue 2, May 2007, Pages 184-199

The feeling that we are agents, intentionally making things happen by our own actions, is foundational to our understanding of ourselves as humans. People’s metacognitions of agency were investigated in 4 experiments. Participants played a game in which they tried to touch downward scrolling Xs and avoid touching Os. Variables that affected accuracy included speed of the scroll, density of the targets, and feedback. Of central interest were variables directed not only at accuracy but also at people’s control: the turbulence of the cursor and how close the cursor had to come to the target for a hit (i.e., “magic”). After each trial, people made judgments of agency or judgments of performance. People were selectively sensitive to the variables to which they should be responsive in agency monitoring—whether the cursor moved in close synchrony to their movements and whether targets disappeared by magic. People knew, separably from their objective or judged performance, when they were in control and when they were not. These results indicate that people can sensitively monitor their own agency.

ScienceDirect

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The missing link between action and cognition

Deborah J. Serrien, Richard B. Ivry and Stephan P. Swinnen

Progress in Neurobiology
Volume 82, Issue 2, June 2007, Pages 95-107

The study of the neural correlates of motor behaviour at the systems level has received increasing consideration in recent years. One emerging observation from this research is that neural regions typically associated with cognitive operations may also be recruited during the performance of motor tasks. This apparent convergence between action and cognition – domains that have most often been studied in isolation – becomes especially apparent when examining new complex motor skills such as those involving sequencing or coordination, and when taking into account external (environment-related) factors such as feedback availability and internal (performer-related) factors such as pathology. Neurally, overlap between action and cognition is prominent in frontal lobe areas linked to response selection and monitoring. Complex motor tasks are particularly suited to reveal the crucial link between action and cognition and the generic brain areas at the interface between these domains.

ScienceDirect

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Human Medial Frontal Cortex Mediates Unconscious Inhibition of Voluntary Action

Petroc Sumner et al.

Neuron
Volume 54, Issue 5, 7 June 2007, Pages 697-711

Within the medial frontal cortex, the supplementary eye field (SEF), supplementary motor area (SMA), and pre-SMA have been implicated in the control of voluntary action, especially during motor sequences or tasks involving rapid choices between competing response plans. However, the precise roles of these areas remain controversial. Here, we study two extremely rare patients with microlesions of the SEF and SMA to demonstrate that these areas are critically involved in unconscious and involuntary motor control. We employed masked-prime stimuli that evoked automatic inhibition in healthy people and control patients with lateral premotor or pre-SMA damage. In contrast, our SEF/SMA patients showed a complete reversal of the normal inhibitory effect—ocular or manual—corresponding to the functional subregion lesioned. These findings imply that the SEF and SMA mediate automatic effector-specific suppression of motor plans. This automatic mechanism may contribute to the participation of these areas in the voluntary control of action.

ScienceDirect


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