Publications by authors named "Jutta Kray"

56 Publications

Mishearing as a Side Effect of Rational Language Comprehension in Noise.

Front Psychol 2021 6;12:679278. Epub 2021 Sep 6.

Department of Language Science and Technology, Saarland University, Saarbrücken, Germany.

Language comprehension in noise can sometimes lead to mishearing, due to the noise disrupting the speech signal. Some of the difficulties in dealing with the noisy signal can be alleviated by drawing on the context - indeed, top-down predictability has shown to facilitate speech comprehension in noise. Previous studies have furthermore shown that strong reliance on the top-down predictions can lead to increased rates of mishearing, especially in older adults, which are attributed to general deficits in cognitive control in older adults. We here propose that the observed mishearing may be a simple consequence of rational language processing in noise. It should not be related to failure on the side of the older comprehenders, but instead would be predicted by rational processing accounts. To test this hypothesis, we extend earlier studies by running an online listening experiment with younger and older adults, carefully controlling the target and direct competitor in our stimuli. We show that mishearing is directly related to the perceptibility of the signal. We furthermore add an analysis of wrong responses, which shows that results are at odds with the idea that participants overly strongly rely on context in this task, as most false answers are indeed close to the speech signal, and not to the semantics of the context.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.679278DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8450506PMC
September 2021

Patients with amnestic MCI Fail to Adapt Executive Control When Repeatedly Tested with Semantic Verbal Fluency Tasks.

J Int Neuropsychol Soc 2021 Jun 30:1-8. Epub 2021 Jun 30.

University Hospital of Old Age Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.

Objective: Semantic verbal fluency (SVF) tasks require individuals to name items from a specified category within a fixed time. An impaired SVF performance is well documented in patients with amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (aMCI). The two leading theoretical views suggest either loss of semantic knowledge or impaired executive control to be responsible.

Method: We assessed SVF 3 times on 2 consecutive days in 29 healthy controls (HC) and 29 patients with aMCI with the aim to answer the question which of the two views holds true.

Results: When doing the task for the first time, patients with aMCI produced fewer and more common words with a shorter mean response latency. When tested repeatedly, only healthy volunteers increased performance. Likewise, only the performance of HC indicated two distinct retrieval processes: a prompt retrieval of readily available items at the beginning of the task and an active search through semantic space towards the end. With repeated assessment, the pool of readily available items became larger in HC, but not patients with aMCI.

Conclusion: The production of fewer and more common words in aMCI points to a smaller search set and supports the loss of semantic knowledge view. The failure to improve performance as well as the lack of distinct retrieval processes point to an additional impairment in executive control. Our data did not clearly favour one theoretical view over the other, but rather indicates that the impairment of patients with aMCI in SVF is due to a combination of both.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1355617721000849DOI Listing
June 2021

Age differences in decision making under known risk: The role of working memory and impulsivity.

Dev Psychol 2021 Feb;57(2):241-252

Department of Psychology.

This study examined whether age differences in risky decision making are dependent on known probability and value of outcomes (i.e., the expected value [EV]), the valence of anticipated outcomes (gains or losses), and individual differences in working memory and impulsivity. We used a task that varied risk independently from EV so that taking risks could be advantageous or disadvantageous. Results indicated differential developmental courses for the sensitivity to EV and outcome valence from early to late adolescence. An increase in risk-advantageous but a decrease in risk-disadvantageous behavior was obtained between early-to-mid and late adolescence. All adolescents showed higher risky behavior when losses rather than gains were expected. Age differences in the sensitivity to EV were fully mediated by individual differences in working memory but not by self-reported impulsivity, suggesting that decision making under known risk is strongly limited by the maturation of cognitive control processes. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/dev0001132DOI Listing
February 2021

Training and Transfer of Cue Updating in Older Adults Is Limited: Evidence From Behavioral and Neuronal Data.

Front Hum Neurosci 2020 4;14:565927. Epub 2020 Dec 4.

Department of Psychology, Saarland University, Saarbrücken, Germany.

Cognitive control processes, such as updating task-relevant information while switching between multiple tasks, are substantially impaired in older adults. However, it has also been shown that these cognitive control processes can be improved by training interventions, e.g., by training in task switching. Here, we applied an event-related potential (ERP) approach to identify whether a cognitive training improves task-preparatory processes such as updating of relevant task goals. To do so, we applied a pretest-training-posttest design with eight training sessions. Two groups of older adults were either trained in task switching (treatment group) or in performing single tasks (control group) and we compared their performance to a group of untrained younger adults. To foster cue updating in the treatment group, we applied a cue-based switching task in which the two task cues were randomly selected prior to target presentation so that participants had time to prepare for the upcoming task. In contrast, the control group also received task cues but those were redundant as only one task had to be performed. We also examined whether training in cue updating during task switching can be transferred to a similar cognitive control task measuring updating of context information, namely a modified version of the AX-Continuous Performance Task (AX-CPT). The results revealed training-specific improvements in task switching, that is, a larger improvement in blocks requiring switching in comparison to single tasks at the behavioral level. In addition, training specific-effects were also found at the neuronal level. Older adults trained in cue updating while switching showed a reduction in mixing costs in the cue-related P3, indicating an improvement in preparatory updating processes. Additionally, P3 topography changed with training from a very broad to a parietally focused scalp distribution similar to the one found in younger adults. However, we did not obtain training-specific improvements in context updating in the AX-CPT neither at the behavioral level nor at the neuronal level. Results are discussed in the context of the ongoing debate on whether transfer of cognitive training improvements is possible.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2020.565927DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7746801PMC
December 2020

The interplay between cognitive control and emotional processing in children and adolescents.

J Exp Child Psychol 2020 05 1;193:104795. Epub 2020 Feb 1.

Saarland University, D-66041 Saarbrücken, Germany.

This study examined interactions between cognitive control and emotional processing throughout adolescent development. In particular, we investigated whether age differences in response inhibition and initiation were influenced by an emotional expression of faces and whether the effects differed from processing of nonemotional features of faces. Therefore, we applied two versions of a Go/No-go task, an emotional task requiring responding or withholding responding to happy and angry faces, and a gender task including decisions to female and male faces in a large sample (N = 187, age range = 9-18 years). Considering theoretical assumptions of dual-system models that mid-adolescents are more susceptible to the processing of emotional contents, we expected more inefficient response inhibition on happy and angry trials than on neutral trials. We also expected that these effects would be specific to emotional contents. Results indicated that both response inhibition and initiation showed linear improvements with increasing age. Response inhibition was hampered in the presence of happy and angry faces, especially in mid-adolescents and late adolescents. In contrast, response initiation was highly facilitated to happy faces, indicating a happy effect, leading to more accurate responding in all age groups and to faster responding especially in late adolescents. Children, in contrast to late adolescents, were more accurate in response inhibition and initiation when the gender was task relevant. Results are in line with dual-system models, assuming a higher sensitivity to emotional features from mid-adolescents onward but not to other features such as gender.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2019.104795DOI Listing
May 2020

Plasticity in brain activity dynamics after task-shifting training in older adults.

Neuropsychologia 2020 01 4;136:107285. Epub 2019 Dec 4.

Saarland University, Saarbrücken, Germany.

Cognitive control is supported by a dynamic interplay of transient (i.e., trial-related) brain activation across fronto-parietal networks and sustained (i.e., block-related) activation across fronto-striatal networks. Older adults show disturbances in this dynamic functional recruitment. There is evidence suggesting that cognitive-control training may enable older adults to redistribute their brain activation across cortical and subcortical networks, which in turn can limit behavioral impairments. However, previous studies have only focused on spatial rather than on temporal aspects of changes in brain activation. In the present study, we examined training-related functional plasticity in old age by applying a hybrid fMRI design that sensitively tracks the spatio-temporal interactions underlying brain-activation changes. Fifty healthy seniors were assigned to a task-shifting training or an active-control group and their pretest/posttest activation-change maps were compared against 25 untrained younger adults. After training, older adults showed the same performance as untrained young adults. Compared to the control group, task-shifting training promoted proactive (i.e., early, cue-related) changes in transient mechanisms supporting the maintenance and top-down biasing of task-set representations in a specific prefrontal circuitry; reactive (i.e., late, probe-related) changes in transient mechanisms supporting response-selection processes in dissociable fronto-parietal networks; overall reductions of sustained activation in striatal circuits. Results highlight the importance of spatio-temporal interactions in training-induced neural changes in age.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2019.107285DOI Listing
January 2020

Spatio-Temporal Neural Changes After Task-Switching Training in Old Age.

Front Aging Neurosci 2019 15;11:267. Epub 2019 Oct 15.

Department of Psychology, Development of Language, Learning and Action, Saarland University, Saarbrücken, Germany.

In the present study, we aimed at examining selective neural changes after task-switching training in old age by not only considering the spatial location but also the timescale of brain activation changes (i.e., sustained/block-related or transient/trial-related timescales). We assigned a sample of 50 older adults to a task-switching training or an active single-task control group. We administered two task paradigms, either sensitive to transient (i.e., a context-updating task) or sustained (i.e., a delayed-recognition working-memory task) dynamics of cognitive control. These dynamics were captured by utilizing an appropriate event-related or block-related functional magnetic resonance imaging design. We captured selective changes in task activation during the untrained tasks after task-switching training compared to an active control group. Results revealed changes at the neural level that were not evident from only behavioral data. Importantly, neural changes in the transient-sensitive context updating task were found on the same timescale but in a different region (i.e., in the left inferior parietal lobule) than in the task-switching training task (i.e., ventrolateral PFC, inferior frontal junction, superior parietal lobule), only pointing to temporal overlap, while neural changes in the sustained-sensitive delayed-recognition task overlapped in both timescale and region with the task-switching training task (i.e., in the basal ganglia), pointing to spatio-temporal overlap. These results suggest that neural changes after task-switching training seem to be critically supported by the organization of neural processing.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2019.00267DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6803514PMC
October 2019

Are Mid-Adolescents Prone to Risky Decisions? The Influence of Task Setting and Individual Differences in Temperament.

Front Psychol 2019 10;10:1497. Epub 2019 Jul 10.

Department of Psychology, Development of Language, Learning, and Action, Saarland University, Saarbrücken, Germany.

Recent developmental models assume a higher tendency to take risks in mid-adolescence, while the empirical evidence for this assumption is rather mixed. Most of the studies applied quite different tasks to measure risk-taking behavior and used a narrow age range. The main goal of the present study was to examine risk-taking behavior in four task settings, the Treasure Hunting Task (THT) in a gain and a loss domain, the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART), and the STOPLIGHT task. These task settings differ in affective task moderators, like descriptive vs. experienced outcomes, anticipation of gains vs. losses, static vs. dynamic risk presentation, and time pressure vs. no time pressure and were applied in a sample of 187 participants from age 9-18. Beneath age trends, we were interested in their association with individual differences in approach behavior, venturesomeness, impulsivity, and empathy above age, gender, and fluid intelligence. Our findings revealed that risk-taking behavior is only low to moderately correlated between the four task contexts, suggesting that they capture different aspects of risk-taking behavior. Accordingly, a mid-adolescent peak in risk propensity was only found under time pressure in the STOPLIGHT that was associated with higher impulsivity and empathy. In contrast, risky decisions decreased with increasing age in task settings, in which losses were anticipated (THT Loss), and this was associated with higher cognitive abilities. We found no age differences when gains were anticipated, neither in a static (THT Gain) nor in a dynamic task setting (BART). These findings clearly suggest the need to consider affective task moderators, as well as individual differences in temperament and cognitive abilities, in actual models about adolescent development.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01497DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6636392PMC
July 2019

Exploitation vs. exploration-computational temporal and semantic analysis explains semantic verbal fluency impairment in Alzheimer's disease.

Neuropsychologia 2019 08 20;131:53-61. Epub 2019 May 20.

Chair for Development of Language, Learning & Action, University of Saarland, Germany.

Impaired Semantic Verbal Fluency (SVF) in dementia due to Alzheimer's Disease (AD) and its precursor Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is well known. Yet, it remains open whether this impairment mirrors the breakdown of semantic memory retrieval processes or executive control processes. Therefore, qualitative analysis of the SVF has been proposed but is limited in terms of methodology and feasibility in clinical practice. Consequently, research draws no conclusive picture which of these afore-mentioned processes drives the SVF impairment in AD and MCI. This study uses a qualitative computational approach-combining temporal and semantic information-to investigate exploitation and exploration patterns as indicators for semantic memory retrieval and executive control processes. Audio SVF recordings of 20 controls (C, 66-81 years), 55 MCI (57-94 years) and 20 AD subjects (66-82 years) were assessed while groups were matched according to age and education. All groups produced, on average, the same amount of semantically related items in rapid succession within word clusters. Conversely, towards AD, there was a clear decline in semantic as well as temporal exploration patterns between clusters. Results strongly point towards preserved exploitation-semantic memory retrieval processes-and hampered exploration-executive control processes-in AD and potentially in MCI.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2019.05.007DOI Listing
August 2019

Effects of Aging and Dual-Task Demands on the Comprehension of Less Expected Sentence Continuations: Evidence From Pupillometry.

Front Psychol 2019 29;10:709. Epub 2019 Mar 29.

Department of Psychology, Saarland University, Saarbrücken, Germany.

Prior studies on language processing in aging have shown that older adults experience integration difficulties for contextually unpredictable target words (as indicated by low cloze probabilities in prior ratings), and that such comprehension difficulties are more likely to occur under more demanding processing conditions (e.g., dual-task situations). However, these effects have primarily been demonstrated for conditions when cloze probability of the linguistic stimuli was very low. The question we asked here was do dual-task demands also impair comprehension when target words provide a good, but not perfect, match with prior context? We used a dual-task design, consisting of a sentence comprehension and secondary motor tracking task. Critical target words were those which were not perfectly predictable based on context (words with a cloze probability of 0.7), as opposed to words that were near perfectly predictable based on context (cloze probabilities of 0.99). As a measure to index online processing difficulty for less expected target words, we took into account participants' pupil size. Separate mixed effects models were fit for language comprehension, motor tracking, and pupil size, showing the following: (1) dual-task demands led to age-related comprehension difficulties when target words were less expected (as opposed to very highly expected), (2) integration difficulty in older adults was related to cognitive overload as less expected sentence continuations progressed over time, resulting in behavioral trade-offs between language comprehension and motor tracking, and (3) lower levels of working memory were predictive of whether or not older adults experienced cognitive overload when processing less expected words. In sum, more demanding processing conditions lead to comprehension impairments when words are highly unpredictable based on context, as many prior studies showed. Comprehension impairments among older individuals also occur for conditions when words provide a good, but not perfect, match with prior context. Higher working memory capacity can alleviate such impairments in older adults, thereby suggesting that only high-WM older adults have sufficient cognitive resources to pre-activate words that complete a sentence context plausibly, but not perfectly.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00709DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6449456PMC
March 2019

The Index of Cognitive Activity as a Measure of Cognitive Processing Load in Dual Task Settings.

Front Psychol 2018 30;9:2276. Epub 2018 Nov 30.

Department of Psychology, Saarland University, Saarbrücken, Germany.

Increases in pupil size have long been used as an indicator of cognitive load. Recently, the Index of Cognitive Activity (ICA), a novel pupillometric measure has received increased attention. The ICA measures the frequency of rapid pupil dilations, and is an interesting complementary measure to overall pupil size because it disentangles the pupil response to cognitive activity from effects of light input. As such, it has been evaluated as a useful measure of processing load in dual task settings coordinating language comprehension and driving. However, the cognitive underpinnings of pupillometry, and any differences between rapid small dilations as measured by the ICA and overall effects on pupil size are still poorly understood. Earlier work has observed that the ICA and overall pupil size may not always behave in the same way, reporting an increase in overall pupil size but decrease in ICA in a dual task setting. To further investigate this, we systematically tested two new dual-task combinations, combining both language comprehension and simulated driving with a memory task. Our findings confirm that more difficult linguistic processing is reflected in a larger ICA. More importantly, however, the dual task settings did not result in an increase in the ICA as compared to the single task, and, consistent with earlier findings, showed a significant decrease with a more difficult secondary task. This contrasts with our findings for pupil size, which showed an increase with greater secondary task difficulty in both tasks. Our results are compatible with the idea that although both pupillometry measures are indicators of cognitive load, they reflect different cognitive and neuronal processes in dual task situations.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02276DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6283914PMC
November 2018

Surprisal modulates dual-task performance in older adults: Pupillometry shows age-related trade-offs in task performance and time-course of language processing.

Psychol Aging 2018 Dec;33(8):1168-1180

Department of Psychology.

Even though older adults are known to have difficulty at language processing when a secondary task has to be performed simultaneously, few studies have addressed how older adults process language in dual-task demands when linguistic load is systematically varied. Here, we manipulated surprisal, an information theoretic measure that quantifies the amount of new information conveyed by a word, to investigate how linguistic load affects younger and older adults during early and late stages of sentence processing under conditions when attention is split between two tasks. In high-surprisal sentences, target words were implausible and mismatched with semantic expectancies based on context, thereby causing integration difficulty. Participants performed semantic meaningfulness judgments on sentences that were presented in isolation (single task) or while performing a secondary tracking task (dual task). Cognitive load was measured by means of pupillometry. Mixed-effects models were fit to the data, showing the following: (a) During the dual task, younger but not older adults demonstrated early sensitivity to surprisal (higher levels of cognitive load, indexed by pupil size) as sentences were heard online; (b) Older adults showed no immediate reaction to surprisal, but a delayed response, where their meaningfulness judgments to high-surprisal words remained stable in accuracy, while secondary tracking performance declined. Findings are discussed in relation to age-related trade-offs in dual tasking and differences in the allocation of attentional resources during language processing. Collectively, our data show that higher linguistic load leads to task trade-offs in older adults and differently affects the time course of online language processing in aging. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pag0000316DOI Listing
December 2018

Impairments in resource allocation and executive control in children with ADHD.

Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry 2019 Jul 7;24(3):462-481. Epub 2018 Dec 7.

Development of Language, Learning and Action, Department of Psychology, Saarland University, Germany.

Children diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) show pronounced alterations in cognitive tasks, such as a highly variable mode of responding. There is an ongoing debate about the key driving mechanisms of such alterations (e.g. specific inhibition or working memory (WM) impairments or general impairments in the allocation of energetic resources). The aim of this study was to disentangle such process-specific versus general limitations in cognitive and energetic mechanisms in children with ADHD compared to typically developed (TD) children based on the performance in a task-switching paradigm. This paradigm allows for both a common measurement and a later segregation of different executive sub-processes. Task-switching performance, including performance variability, of 26 children diagnosed with combined-type ADHD (8-13 years) was compared against the performance of 26 age-matched/IQ-matched TD children. Results revealed that compared to TD children, ADHD-diagnosed children showed alterations in performance variability during task switching, both in general (indicating disturbances in resource allocation) and conditionally on WM demands (indicating a specific WM deficit). Hence, our study provides diagnostically relevant new insights into performance impairments in children with ADHD compared to TD children. Importantly, it seems mandatory to include information on performance variability when trying to phenotype alterations in cognitive performance in ADHD.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1359104518816115DOI Listing
July 2019

Understanding sources of adult age differences in task switching: Evidence from behavioral and ERP studies.

Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2018 09 6;92:255-275. Epub 2018 Jun 6.

Institute for Working, Learning and Aging, Bochum, Germany.

The task-switching paradigm is a valid tool to measure age-related changes in executive functions. It allows identifying the most vulnerable cognitive control processes affected by aging. This review provides an overview about the current evidence on behavioral and electrophysiological signatures of adult age differences in task switching with a focus on age-related changes in ERP correlates of three task-processing phases: (1) advanced task preparation as reflected by the cue-P3 and the CNV; (2) task implementation including P1 / N1, P2, N2, N450 / Ni as well as target-P3; and (3) response monitoring mechanisms as indicated by the Nc / CRN / MFN during correct responding and Ne / ERN in error trials. While most of these ERP correlates of executive control are reduced in older age, qualitative ERP differences between age groups are less consistent. We also report some recent findings from cognitive training research showing the potential for enhancement in task switching in older age. The results are discussed in the light of current models of cognitive control.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.05.029DOI Listing
September 2018

The Influence of Different Kinds of Incentives on Decision-Making and Cognitive Control in Adolescent Development: A Review of Behavioral and Neuroscientific Studies.

Front Psychol 2018 23;9:768. Epub 2018 May 23.

Department of Psychology, Saarland University, Saarbrücken, Germany.

A number of recent hypothetical models on adolescent development take a dual-systems perspective and propose an imbalance in the maturation of neural systems underlying reward-driven and control-related behavior. In particular, such models suggest that the relative dominance of the early emerging subcortical reward system over the later emerging prefrontal-guided control system leads to higher risk-taking and sensation-seeking behavior in mid-adolescents. Here, we will review recent empirical evidence from behavioral and neuroscientific studies examining interactions between these systems and showing that empirical evidence in support for the view of a higher sensitivity to rewards in mid-adolescents is rather mixed. One possible explanation for this may be the use of different kinds and amounts of incentives across studies. We will therefore include developmental studies comparing the differential influence of primary and secondary incentives, as well as those investigating within the class of secondary incentives the effects of monetary, cognitive, or social incentives. We hypothesized that the value of receiving sweets or sours, winning or losing small or large amounts of money, and being accepted or rejected from a peer group may also changes across development, and thereby might modulate age differences in decision-making and cognitive control. Our review revealed that although developmental studies directly comparing different kinds of incentives are rather scarce, results of various studies rather consistently showed only minor age differences in the impact of incentives on the behavioral level. In tendency, adolescents were more sensitive to higher amounts of incentives and larger uncertainty of receiving them, as well as to social incentives such as the presence of peers observing them. Electrophysiological studies showed that processing efficiency was enhanced during anticipation of incentives and receiving them, irrespective of incentive type. Again, we found no strong evidence for interactions with age across studies. Finally, functional brain imaging studies revealed evidence for overlapping brain regions activated during processing of primary and secondary incentives, as well as social and non-social incentives. Adolescents recruited similar reward-related and control-related brain regions as adults did, but to a different degree. Implications for future research will be discussed.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00768DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5974121PMC
May 2018

Does the Effort of Processing Potential Incentives Influence the Adaption of Context Updating in Older Adults?

Front Psychol 2017 9;8:1969. Epub 2017 Nov 9.

Department of Psychology, Saarland University, Saarbrücken, Germany.

A number of aging studies suggest that older adults process positive and negative information differently. For instance, the socioemotional selectivity theory postulates that older adults preferably process positive information in service of emotional well-being (Reed and Carstensen, 2012). Moreover, recent research has started to investigate whether incentives like gains or losses can influence cognitive control in an ongoing task. In an earlier study (Schmitt et al., 2015), we examined whether incentive cues, indicating potential monetary gains, losses, or neutral outcomes for good performance in the following trial, would influence older adults' ability to exert cognitive control. Cognitive control was measured in an AX-Continuous-Performance-Task (AX-CPT) in which participants had to select their responses to probe stimuli depending on a preceding context cue. In this study, we did not find support for a positivity effect in older adults, but both gains and losses led to enhanced context processing. As the trial-wise presentation mode may be too demanding on cognitive resources for such a bias to occur, the main goal of the present study was to examine whether motivational mindsets, induced by block-wise presentation of incentives, would result in a positivity effect. For this reason, we examined 17 older participants (65-76 years) in the AX-CPT using a block-wise presentation of incentive cues and compared them to 18 older adults (69-78 years) with the trial-wise presentation mode from our earlier study (Schmitt et al., 2015). Event-related potentials were recorded to the onset of the motivational cue and during the AX-CPT. Our results show that (a) older adults initially process cues signaling potential losses more strongly, but later during the AX-CPT invest more cognitive resources in preparatory processes like context updating in conditions with potential gains, and (b) block-wise and trial-wise presentation of incentive cues differentially influenced cognitive control. When incentives were presented block-wise, the above described valence effects were consistently found. In contrast, when incentives were presented trial-wise, the effects were mixed and salience as well as valence effects can be obtained. Hence, how positive and negative incentive cues influence cognitive control in older adults is dependent on demands of cue processing.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01969DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5684189PMC
November 2017

Age Differences in the Transfer and Maintenance of Practice-Induced Improvements in Task Switching: The Impact of Working-Memory and Inhibition Demands.

Front Psychol 2017 17;8:410. Epub 2017 Mar 17.

Department of Psychology, Saarland University Saarbruecken, Germany.

Recent aging studies on training in task switching found that older adults showed larger improvements to an untrained switching task as younger adults do. However, less clear is what type of cognitive control processes can explain these training gains as participants were trained with a particular type of switching task including bivalent stimuli, requiring high inhibition demands, and no task cues helping them keeping track of the task sequence, and by this, requiring high working-memory (WM) demands. The aims of this study were first to specify whether inhibition, WM, or switching demands are critical for the occurrence of transfer and whether this transfer depends on the degree of overlap between training and transfer situation; and second to assess whether practiced-induced gains in task switching can be maintained over a longer period of time. To this end, we created five training conditions that varied in switching (switching vs. single task training), inhibition (switching training with bivalent or univalent stimuli), and WM demands (switching training with or without task cues). We investigated 81 younger adults and 82 older adults with a pretest-training-posttest design and a follow-up measurement after 6 months. Results indicated that all training and age groups showed improvements in task switching and a differential effect of training condition on improvements to an untrained switching task in younger and older adults. For younger adults, we found larger improvements in task switching for the switching groups than the single-task training group independently of inhibition and WM demands, suggesting that practice in switching is most critical. However, these benefits disappeared after 6 months. In contrast, for older adults training groups practicing task switching under high inhibition demands showed larger improvements to untrained switching tasks than the other groups. Moreover, these benefits were maintained over time. We also found that the transfer of benefits in task switching was larger with greater overlap between training and transfer situation. However, results revealed no evidence for transfer to other untrained cognitive task. Overall, the findings suggest that training in resolving interference while switching between two tasks is most critical for the occurrence of transfer in the elderly.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00410DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5355431PMC
March 2017

Does language help regularity learning? The influence of verbalizations on implicit sequential regularity learning and the emergence of explicit knowledge in children, younger and older adults.

Dev Psychol 2017 03 5;53(3):597-610. Epub 2016 Dec 5.

Department of Psychology.

This study aimed at investigating the ability to learn regularities across the life span and examine whether this learning process can be supported or hampered by verbalizations. For this purpose, children (aged 8-10 years) and younger (aged 19-30 years) and older (aged 70-80 years) adults took part in a sequence learning experiment. We found that verbalizing sequence-congruent information during learning is a powerful tool to generate explicit knowledge and it is especially helpful for younger adults. Although recent research suggests that implicit learning can be influenced by directing the participants' attention to relevant aspects of the task, verbalizations had a much weaker influence on implicit than explicit learning. Our results show that verbalizing during learning slows down reaction times (RTs) but does not influence the amount of implicit learning. Especially older adults were not able to overcome the cost of the dual-task situation. Younger adults, in contrast, show an initial dual-tasking cost that, in the case of a helpful verbalization, is overcome with practice and turns into a RT and learning benefit. However, when the verbalization is omitted this benefit is lost, that is, better implicit learning seems to be confined to situations in which the supporting verbalization is maintained. Additionally, we did not find reliable age differences in implicit learning in the no verbalization groups, which speaks in favor of age-invariant models of implicit learning across the life span. (PsycINFO Database Record
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/dev0000262DOI Listing
March 2017

Feedback processing in children and adolescents: Is there a sensitivity for processing rewarding feedback?

Neuropsychologia 2016 Feb 6;82:31-38. Epub 2016 Jan 6.

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA.

Developmental studies indicate that children rely more on external feedback than adults. Some of these studies claim that they additionally show higher sensitivity toward positive feedback, while others find they preferably use negative feedback for learning. However, these studies typically did not disentangle feedback valence and expectancy, which might contribute to the controversial results. The present study aimed at examining the neurophysiological correlates of feedback processing in children (8-10 years) and adolescents (12-14 years) in a time estimation paradigm that allows separating the contribution of valence and expectancy. Our results show that in the feedback-related negativity (FRN), an event-related potential (ERP) reflecting the fast initial processing of feedback stimuli, children and adolescents did not differentiate between unexpected positive and negative feedback. Thus, they did not show higher sensitivity to positive feedback. The FRN did also not differentiate between expected and unexpected feedback, as found for adults. In contrast, in a later processing stage mirrored in the P300 component of the ERP, children and adolescents processed the feedback's unexpectedness. Interestingly, adolescents with better behavioral adaptation (high-performers) also had a more frontal P300 expectancy effect. Thus, the recruitment of additional frontal brain regions might lead to better learning from feedback in adolescents.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2016.01.007DOI Listing
February 2016

Does verbal labeling influence age differences in proactive and reactive cognitive control?

Dev Psychol 2015 Mar;51(3):378-91

Aix-Marseille University.

The main goal of this study was to examine whether different types of verbal labeling can influence age-related changes in the dynamic control of behavior by inducing either a proactive or reactive mode of control. Proactive control is characterized by a strong engagement in maintaining task-relevant information to be optimally prepared while reactive control is characterized by a reactivation of task-related information during responding. To investigate dynamic shifts between these control modes, we applied the AX-Continuous-Performance-Task in 2 experiments that differed in the complexity of stimuli and types of labeling in children (range = 7-10 years), younger (range = 19-33 years), and older adults (range = 69-83 years). We expected that labeling the cue information would promote a shift from a reactive to a proactive control mode primarily in children and older adults, while labeling the probe information would result in a shift from a proactive to a reactive control mode primarily in younger adults. Results of both experiments indicated that children, younger, and older adults were equally engaged in cue processing and performed the task in a proactive manner. While cue labeling did not further promote performing the task proactively, probe labeling induced a shift to a reactive control mode, especially in children. In the first experiment, including younger children than in the second experiment, children had more problems than adults to reactivate cue information to overcome a strong response tendency. These findings support the view that verbal labeling can influence the regulation of behavior by selectively attracting attention to relevant information in a given task.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0038795DOI Listing
March 2015

The influence of monetary incentives on context processing in younger and older adults: an event-related potential study.

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 2015 Jun;15(2):416-34

Department of Psychology, Saarland University, 66041, Saarbrücken, Germany,

Recent evidence has indicated that neuronal activity related to reward anticipation benefits subsequent stimulus processing, but the effect of penalties remains largely unknown. Since the dual-mechanisms-of-control theory (DMC; Braver & Barch, Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 26, 809-81, 2002) assumes that temporal differences in context updating underlie age differences in cognitive control, in this study we investigated whether motivational cues (signaling the chance to win or the risk to lose money, relative to neutral cues) preceding context information in a modified AX-CPT paradigm influence the temporal stages of context processing in younger and older adults. In the behavioral data, younger adults benefited from gain cues, evident in their enhanced context updating, whereas older adults exhibited slowed responding after motivational cues, irrespective of valence. Event-related potentials (ERPs) revealed that the enhanced processing of motivational cues in the P2 and P3b was mainly age-invariant, whereas age-differential effects were found for the ERP correlates of context processing. Younger adults showed improved context maintenance (i.e., a larger negative-going CNV), as well as increased conflict detection (larger N450) and resolution (indicated by a sustained positivity), whenever incorrect responding would lead to a monetary loss. In contrast, motivationally salient cues benefited context representations (in cue-locked P3b amplitudes), but increased working memory demands during response preparation (via a temporally prolonged P3b) in older adults. In sum, motivational valence and salience effects differentially modulated the temporal stages of context processing in younger and older adults. These results are discussed in terms of the DMC theory, recent findings of emotion regulation in old age, and the relationship between cognitive and affective processing.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3758/s13415-015-0335-xDOI Listing
June 2015

Dissociable effects of game elements on motivation and cognition in a task-switching training in middle childhood.

Front Psychol 2014 13;5:1275. Epub 2014 Nov 13.

Department of Psychology, Development of Language, Learning and Action, Saarland University Saarbrücken, Germany.

Although motivational reinforcers are often used to enhance the attractiveness of trainings of cognitive control in children, little is known about how such motivational manipulations of the setting contribute to separate gains in motivation and cognitive-control performance. Here we provide a framework for systematically investigating the impact of a motivational video-game setting on the training motivation, the task performance, and the transfer success in a task-switching training in middle-aged children (8-11 years of age). We manipulated both the type of training (low-demanding/single-task training vs. high-demanding/task-switching training) as well as the motivational setting (low-motivational/without video-game elements vs. high-motivational/with video-game elements) separately from another. The results indicated that the addition of game elements to a training setting enhanced the intrinsic interest in task practice, independently of the cognitive demands placed by the training type. In the task-switching group, the high-motivational training setting led to an additional enhancement of task and switching performance during the training phase right from the outset. These motivation-induced benefits projected onto the switching performance in a switching situation different from the trained one (near-transfer measurement). However, in structurally dissimilar cognitive tasks (far-transfer measurement), the motivational gains only transferred to the response dynamics (speed of processing). Hence, the motivational setting clearly had a positive impact on the training motivation and on the paradigm-specific task-switching abilities; it did not, however, consistently generalize on broad cognitive processes. These findings shed new light on the conflation of motivation and cognition in childhood and may help to refine guidelines for designing adequate training interventions.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01275DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4230167PMC
November 2014

"Trick or treat": the influence of incentives on developmental changes in feedback-based learning.

Front Psychol 2014 9;5:968. Epub 2014 Sep 9.

Development of Language, Learning, and Action, Department of Psychology, Saarland University Saarbrücken, Germany.

Developmental researchers have suggested that adolescents are characterized by stronger reward sensitivity than both children and younger adults. However, at this point, little is known about the extent to which developmental differences in incentive processing influence feedback-based learning. In this study, we applied an incentivized reinforcement learning task, in which errors resulted in losing money (loss condition), failure to gain money (gain condition), or neither (no-incentive condition). Children (10-11 years), younger adolescents (13-14 years), and older adolescents (15-17 years) performed this task while event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded. We focused our analyses on two ERP correlates of error processing, the error negativity (Ne/ERN) and the error positivity (Pe) that are thought to reflect a rapid preconscious performance monitoring mechanism (Ne/ERN) and conscious detection and/or evaluation of response errors (Pe). Behaviorally, participants in all age groups responded more quickly and accurately to stimuli in gain and loss conditions than to those in the no-incentive condition. The performance data thus did not support the idea that incentives generally have a greater behavioral impact in adolescents than in children. While the Ne/ERN was not modulated by the incentive manipulation, both children and adolescents showed a larger Pe to errors in the gain condition compared to loss and no-incentive conditions. This is in contrast to results from adult studies, in which the Ne/ERN but not the Pe was enhanced for high-value errors, raising the possibility that motivational influences on performance monitoring might be reflected in the activity of separable neural systems in children and adolescents vs. adults. In contrast to the idea of higher reward/incentive sensitivity in adolescents, our findings suggest that incentives have similar effects on feedback-based learning from late childhood into late adolescence with no changes in preferences for "trick over treat."
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00968DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4158774PMC
September 2014

Age-differential effects on updating cue information: evidence from event-related potentials.

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 2014 Sep;14(3):1115-31

Department of Psychology, Saarland University, D-66041, Saarbrücken, Germany,

Recent models on cognitive aging consider the ability to maintain and update context information to be a key source of age-related impairments in various cognitive tasks (Braver & Barch in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 26: 809-817, 2002). Context updating has been investigated with a modified AX-continuous-performance task by comparing performance and brain activity between context-dependent trials (i.e., correct responses require updating of the preceding cue information) and context-independent trials (i.e., correct responses are independent of cue information). We used an event-related potential (ERP) approach to identify sources of age differences in context processing in the early and late processing of cue information. Our behavioral data showed longer latencies and higher error rates on context-dependent than on context-independent trials for older than for younger adults, suggesting age-related impairments in context updating. The ERP data revealed larger P3b amplitudes for context-dependent than for context-independent trials only in younger adults. In contrast, in older adults, P3b amplitudes were more evenly distributed across the scalp and did not differ between context conditions. Interestingly, older but not younger adults were sensitive to changes of cue identity, as indicated by larger P3b amplitudes on cue-change than on cue-repeat trials, irrespective of the actual context condition. We also found a larger CNV on context-dependent than on context-independent trials, reflecting active maintenance of context information and response preparation. The age-differential effects in the P3b suggest that both younger and older adults were engaged in updating task-relevant information, but relied on different information: Whereas younger participants indeed relied on context cues to update and reconfigure the task settings, older adults relied on changes in cue identity, irrespective of context information.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3758/s13415-014-0268-9DOI Listing
September 2014

Cognitive control and language across the life span: does labeling improve reactive control?

Dev Psychol 2014 May 3;50(5):1620-7. Epub 2014 Feb 3.

Department of Psychology, Saarland University.

How does cognitive control change with age, and what are the processes underlying these changes? This question has been extensively studied using versions of the task-switching paradigm, which allow participants to actively prepare for the upcoming task (Kray, Eber, & Karbach, 2008). Little is known, however, about age-related changes in this ability across the life span when there is no opportunity to anticipate task goals. We examined the effect of 2 kinds of verbal self-instruction-labeling either the task goal or the relevant feature of the stimulus-on 2 components of cognitive control, goal setting and switching, in children, young adults, and older adults. All participants performed single-task blocks and mixed-task blocks (involving unpredictable switching between 2 tasks) in silent and labeling conditions. Participants categorized bidimensional stimuli either by picture or by color, depending on their spatial position in a 2-cell vertical grid. Response times revealed an inverted U shape in performance with age. These age differences were more pronounced for goal setting than for switching, thus generalizing results obtained in situations taping proactive control to this new context forcing reactive control. Further, differential age-related effects of verbalization were also obtained. Verbalizations were detrimental for young adults, beneficial for older adults, and had mixed effects in children. These differences are interpreted in terms of qualitative developmental changes in reactive goal-setting strategies.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0035867DOI Listing
May 2014

Developmental changes in performance monitoring: how electrophysiological data can enhance our understanding of error and feedback processing in childhood and adolescence.

Behav Brain Res 2014 Apr 31;263:122-32. Epub 2014 Jan 31.

Department of Psychology, Saarland University, D-66041 Saarbrücken, Germany.

Performance monitoring includes learning from errors and feedback and depends on the functioning of the mediofrontal cortex, especially the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the mesencephalic dopamine system. Error and feedback monitoring develop during childhood until early adulthood and are important in a lot of learning situations. The aims of this article are twofold: First, to review the present literature on the development of performance monitoring, and second, to highlight how electrophysiological data can contribute to the understanding of error and feedback processing in childhood and adolescence.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.01.029DOI Listing
April 2014

Developmental changes in using verbal self-cueing in task-switching situations: the impact of task practice and task-sequencing demands.

Front Psychol 2013 17;4:940. Epub 2013 Dec 17.

Laboratoire de Psychologie Cognitive, UMR 7290, Aix-Marseille Université Marseille, France.

In this study we examined whether developmental changes in using verbal self-cueing for task-goal maintenance are dependent on the amount of task practice and task-sequencing demands. To measure task-goal maintenance we applied a switching paradigm in which children either performed only task A or B in single-task blocks or switched between them on every second trial in mixed-task blocks. Task-goal maintenance was determined by comparing the performance between both blocks (mixing costs). The influence of verbal self-cueing was measured by instructing children to either name the next task aloud or not to verbalize during task preparation. Task-sequencing demands were varied between groups whereas one group received spatial task cues to support keeping track of the task sequence, while the other group did not. We also varied by the amount of prior practice in task switching while one group of participants practiced task switching first, before performing the task naming in addition, and the other group did it vice versa. Results of our study investigating younger (8-10 years) and older children (11-13 years) revealed no age differences in beneficial effects of verbal self-cueing. In line with previous findings, children showed reduced mixing costs under task-naming instructions and under conditions of low task-sequence demands (with the presence of spatial task cues). Our results also indicated that these benefits were only obtained for those groups of children that first received practice in task switching alone with no additional verbalization instruction. These findings suggest that internal task-cueing strategies can be efficiently used in children but only if they received prior practice in the underlying task so that demands on keeping and coordinating various instructions are reduced. Moreover, children benefitted from spatial task cues for better task-goal maintenance only if no verbal task-cueing strategy was introduced first.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00940DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3865368PMC
January 2014

Age-related changes in processing positive and negative feedback: is there a positivity effect for older adults?

Biol Psychol 2013 Oct 23;94(2):235-41. Epub 2013 Jul 23.

Department of Psychology, Saarland University, D-66041 Saarbrücken, Germany. Electronic address:

Older people sometimes show a bias toward the processing of positive information. In this study, we used an event-related potential approach to examine whether such a positivity bias is also present during feedback processing in older adults. Our results suggest that a fast initial monitoring process, as reflected in the feedback-related negativity (FRN), is sensitive to the expectancy of events irrespective of their valence for older (aged 70-77 years) as well as younger (aged 20-27 years) adults. In contrast, in a later evaluation process, associated with memory updating and indexed by the P300, both age groups preferably processed unexpected positive feedback. However, younger adults additionally differentiated between unexpected negative and expected feedback while older adults did not, probably due to a lower working memory capacity.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsycho.2013.07.006DOI Listing
October 2013

The processing of unexpected positive response outcomes in the mediofrontal cortex.

J Neurosci 2012 Aug;32(35):12087-92

Department of Psychology, Saarland University, D-66041 Saarbrücken, Germany.

The human mediofrontal cortex, especially the anterior cingulate cortex, is commonly assumed to contribute to higher cognitive functions like performance monitoring. How exactly this is achieved is currently the subject of lively debate but there is evidence that an event's valence and its expectancy play important roles. One prominent theory, the reinforcement learning theory by Holroyd and colleagues (2002, 2008), assigns a special role to feedback valence, while the prediction of response-outcome (PRO) model by Alexander and Brown (2010, 2011) claims that the mediofrontal cortex is sensitive to unexpected events regardless of their valence. However, paradigms examining this issue have included confounds that fail to separate valence and expectancy. In the present study, we tested the two competing theories of performance monitoring by using an experimental task that separates valence and unexpectedness of performance feedback. The feedback-related negativity of the event-related potential, which is commonly assumed to be a reflection of mediofrontal cortex activity, was elicited not only by unexpected negative feedback, but also by unexpected positive feedback. This implies that the mediofrontal cortex is sensitive to the unexpectedness of events in general rather than their valence and by this supports the PRO model.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1410-12.2012DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6621524PMC
August 2012

Punishment sensitivity modulates the processing of negative feedback but not error-induced learning.

Front Hum Neurosci 2012 27;6:186. Epub 2012 Jun 27.

Department of Psychology, Development of Language, Learning, and Action, Saarland University Saarbruecken, Germany.

Accumulating evidence suggests that individual differences in punishment and reward sensitivity are associated with functional alterations in neural systems underlying error and feedback processing. In particular, individuals highly sensitive to punishment have been found to be characterized by larger mediofrontal error signals as reflected in the error negativity/error-related negativity (Ne/ERN) and the feedback-related negativity (FRN). By contrast, reward sensitivity has been shown to relate to the error positivity (Pe). Given that Ne/ERN, FRN, and Pe have been functionally linked to flexible behavioral adaptation, the aim of the present research was to examine how these electrophysiological reflections of error and feedback processing vary as a function of punishment and reward sensitivity during reinforcement learning. We applied a probabilistic learning task that involved three different conditions of feedback validity (100%, 80%, and 50%). In contrast to prior studies using response competition tasks, we did not find reliable correlations between punishment sensitivity and the Ne/ERN. Instead, higher punishment sensitivity predicted larger FRN amplitudes, irrespective of feedback validity. Moreover, higher reward sensitivity was associated with a larger Pe. However, only reward sensitivity was related to better overall learning performance and higher post-error accuracy, whereas highly punishment sensitive participants showed impaired learning performance, suggesting that larger negative feedback-related error signals were not beneficial for learning or even reflected maladaptive information processing in these individuals. Thus, although our findings indicate that individual differences in reward and punishment sensitivity are related to electrophysiological correlates of error and feedback processing, we found less evidence for influences of these personality characteristics on the relation between performance monitoring and feedback-based learning.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2012.00186DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3384291PMC
October 2012
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