The prefrontal cortex has long been suspected to play an important role in cognitive control, in the ability to orchestrate thought and action in accordance with internal goals. Its neural basis, however, has remained a mystery. Here, we propose that cognitive control stems from the active maintenance of patterns of activity in the prefrontal cortex that represent goals and the means to achieve them. They provide bias signals to other brain structures whose net effect is to guide the flow of (...) activity along neural pathways that establish the proper mappings between inputs, internal states, and outputs needed to perform a given task. We review neurophysiological, neurobiological, neuroimaging, and computational studies that support this theory and discuss its implications as well as further issues to be addressed. (shrink)
In some cases people judge it morally acceptable to sacrifice one person’s life in order to save several other lives, while in other similar cases they make the opposite judgment. Researchers have identified two general factors that may explain this phenomenon at the stimulus level: (1) the agent’s intention (i.e. whether the harmful event is intended as a means or merely foreseen as a side-effect) and (2) whether the agent harms the victim in a manner that is relatively “direct” or (...) “personal”. Here we integrate these two classes of findings. Two experiments examine a novel personalness/directness factor that we call personal force, present when the force that directly impacts the victim is generated by the agent’s muscles (e.g., in pushing). Experiments 1a and b demonstrate the influence of personal force on moral judgment, distinguishing it from physical contact and spatial proximity. Experiments 2a and b demonstrate an interaction between personal force and intention, whereby the effect of personal force depends entirely on intention. These studies also introduce a method for controlling for people’s real-world expectations in decisions involving potentially unrealistic hypothetical dilemmas. (shrink)
Traditional theories of moral development emphasize the role of controlled cognition in mature moral judgment, while a more recent trend emphasizes intuitive and emotional processes. Here we test a dual-process theory synthesizing these perspectives. More specifically, our theory associates utilitarian moral judgment (approving of harmful actions that maximize good consequences) with controlled cognitive processes and associates non-utilitarian moral judgment with automatic emotional responses. Consistent with this theory, we find that a cognitive load manipulation selectively interferes with utilitarian judgment. This interference (...) effect provides direct evidence for the influence of controlled cognitive processes in moral judgment, and utilitarian moral judgment more specifically. (shrink)
One hypothesis concerning the human dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is that it functions, in part, to signal the occurrence of conflicts in information processing, thereby triggering compensatory adjustments in cognitive control. Since this idea was first proposed, a great deal of relevant empirical evidence has accrued. This evidence has largely corroborated the conflict-monitoring hypothesis, and some very recent work has provided striking new support for the theory. At the same time, other findings have posed specific challenges, especially concerning the (...) way the theory addresses the processing of errors. Recent research has also begun to shed light on the larger function of the ACC, suggesting some new possibilities concerning how conflict monitoring might fit into the cingulate's overall role in cognition and action. (shrink)
We review how leaky competing accumulators (LCAs) can be used to model decision making in two-alternative, forced-choice tasks, and we show how they reduce to drift diffusion (DD) processes in special cases. As continuum limits of the sequential probability ratio test, DD processes are optimal in producing decisions of specified accuracy in the shortest possible time. Furthermore, the DD model can be used to derive a speed–accuracy trade-off that optimizes reward rate for a restricted class of two alternative forced-choice decision (...) tasks. We review findings that compare human performance with this benchmark, and we reveal both approximations to and deviations from optimality. We then discuss three potential sources of deviations from optimality at the psychological level—avoidance of errors, poor time estimation, and minimization of the cost of control—and review recent theoretical and empirical findings that address these possibilities. We also discuss the role of cognitive control in changing environments and in modulating exploitation and exploration. Finally, we consider physiological factors in which nonlinear dynamics may also contribute to deviations from optimality. (shrink)
The aim of our commentary is to strengthen Cowan's proposal for an inherent capacity limitation in STM by suggesting a neurobiological mechanism based on competitive networks and nonlinear oscillations that avoids some of the shortcomings of the scheme discussed in the target article (Lisman & Idiart 1995).