Cognitive and affective control

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Gilles Pourtois, Wim Notebaert, Tom Verguts
Frontiers E-books
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 Traditionally, cognition and emotion are seen as separate domains that are independent at best and in competition at worst. The French scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) famously said “Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point” (The heart has its reasons that reason does not know). Over the last century, however, psychologists and neuroscientists have increasingly appreciated their very strong reciprocal connections and interactions. Initially this was demonstrated in cognitive functions such as attention, learning and memory, and decision making. For instance, an emotional stimulus captures attention (e.g., Anderson & Phelps, 2001). Likewise, emotional stimuli are better learned and remembered than neutral ones (e.g., McGaugh, 1990) and they can provide strong incentives to bias decision making (Bechara et al., 1997). 

In more recent years, cognitive control has also been found to be intimately intertwined with emotion. This is consistent with an approach that considers cognitive control as an adaptive learning process (Braver & Cohen, 1999), reinforcement learning in particular (Holroyd & Coles, 2002; Verguts & Notebaert, 2009). From this perspective, cognitive control is not a cool encapsulated executive function, but instead involves rapidly calculating the value of situational, contextual, and action cues (Rushworth & Behrens, 2008) for the purpose of adapting the cognitive system toward future optimal performance. 

A wide array of research has shed light on cognitive control and its interactions with affect or motivation. Behaviorally, important phenomena include how people respond to difficult stimuli (e.g., incongruent stimuli, task switches), negative feedback, or errors and how this influences subsequent task processing. Neurally, an important target structure has been the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and its connections to traditional “emotional” (e.g., amygdala) and “cognitive” areas (e.g., (pre)motor cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex). ACC seems to play a predominant role in integrating distant effects from remote cognitive and emotion systems in order to guide and optimize behavior. 

The current special issue focuses on the bi-directional link between emotion and cognitive control. We invite studies that investigate the influence from emotion on cognitive control, or vice versa, the influence of cognitive control on emotion. Contributions can be of different types: We welcome empirical contributions (behavioral or neuroscientific) but also computational modeling, theory, or review papers. By bringing together researchers from the traditionally separated domains, we hope to further stimulate the crosstalk between emotion and cognitive control, and thus to deepen our understanding of both.

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