Research Grant "Increased perception-action coupling through embodied cognition: How the human body improves the simultaneous performance of two tasks in basic and applied task contexts" (FI 1624/5-1) by the German Research Foundation (DFG), 2020-2023
Research Grant "Embodied Cognition in Multitasking: Stimulus-Hand Proximity and Cognitive Control in Dual-Task Performance" (Co-PI Roman Liepelt, PhD) within the Priority Program "Multitasking" (SPP 1771) of the German Reseach Foundation (DFG), 2015-2018 (FI 1624/3-1).
Research Grant "Adaptive Regulation of Cognitive Control in Dual-Task Performance" within the Collaborative Research Center 940 (webpage) by the German Research Foundation (DFG), 2012-2016
Research Grant "The Functionality of Alerting Signals in Action Control" (FI 1624/2-1) by the German Research Foundation (DFG), 2010-2013/14
Dynamics of Cognitive Control
Goal-directed behavior requires the flexible online-regulation of control to adjust behavior to changing environmental demands. On the one hand, current action goals need to be shielded and protected from distraction and competing action tendencies. At the same time, however, complete goal shielding is not adaptive when certain signals in the environment indicate the need for changing the current action goal.
In this project we ask, how this balance between antagonistic control requirements (shielding vs. relaxation) is maintained. A central claim is, that a bias in this balance (e.g., too much or too little goal-shielding) results in maladaptive and dysfunctional (e.g., psychopathological) behavior.
We further investigate the reliability and integrity of cognitive control and ask which events in the environment trigger an adjustment of cognitive control. For example, we could show that the experience of acute psychosocial stress does not result in an often-assumed general impairment of prefrontal cortex functioning but triggers a shift in the adaptation of cognitive control. For example, the experience of uncontrollable psychosocial stress results in tonically increased shielding of the relevant goal in working memory (exploitation) at the cost of reduced flexibility (exploration).
Coordination and learning of multiple task performance
The simultaneous performance of multiple tasks is associated with large performance costs. At the same time, growing complexity in modern work environments continuously demands increasing individual multitasking abilities. In this project we investigate and aim at optimizing underlying control mechanisms that are involved in multitasking. What factors determine successful multitasking? How can multitasking be learned? What memory contents (e.g., unconscious, semantics, and stereotypes) can be activated and processed simultaneously? And which information can be utilized to efficiently and successfully regulate cognitive control in the concurrent performance of two tasks?
Conflict processing and adjustment to conflict
How is cognitive control dynamically adjusted to varying task demands? The Conflict Monitoring Theory suggests that a conflict detection module (i.e., anterior cingulate cortex, ACC) monitors for response conflicts in the ongoing processing stream thereby triggering the mobilization of control in order to optimize subsequent performance (Botvinick et al., 2001).
Starting from the idea that conflict processing results in a context-specific bottom-up regulation of cognitive control, we first study the characteristics and nature of the conflict signal. Here we could show that response conflicts are experienced as aversive signals and that aversive stimuli (in the absence of conflict) trigger similar control adjustments as proposed in the Conflict Monitoring Theory.
Second, in our research we have demonstrated that adaptation to conflict may less be seen as a proactive recruitment of control to serve future processing, but instead as a reactivation of control settings that were part of prior conflict resolution. Third, we are interested in the role of inter-individual differences in the detection and utilization of conflict signals for control adjustments.
The role of alerting signals in action control
Alerting warning signals are meant to optimize behavior in complex and error prone human-machine interactions and are thus often found in vehicles as “Lane Departure Warning System”, “Vehicle Headway Sensors”, or “Reverse Parking Sensors”. In recent research, however, we could show that alerting signals are especially beneficial in the initiation of reflexive response tendencies, which results in increased response conflicts when two response alternatives compete for control of action. We interpret this finding as an alerting signal based enhanced memory retrieval process on the basis of acquired S-R links. In a recent fMRI study we could show that the presence of alerting signals reduced neural activity in primary visual cortex. We assume that alerting signals trigger a shift in cognitive control engagement to a stronger reliance on habitual memory-based reflex-behavior that may be accompanied with an increase in efficiency in information transmission from lower to higher cortices.
Deactivation of intentions in memory
How are intentions formed, maintained in memory and eventually deactivated once completed? Using a newly developed prospective memory paradigm we investigate potential aftereffects of completed intentions. We could show that intentions seem to remain in a heightened state of activation in memory despite their completion and interfere with subsequent behavior. In this project we currently study conditions (e.g., individual factors) that facilitate/hinder the deactivation of completed memory representations.