ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (8): 1844-1855.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.01844

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The underlying mechanisms of negative affect in (cognitive) conflict adaptation: Separated vs. integrated insights

YANG Qian()   

  1. Institute of Brain and Psychological Sciences, Sichuan Normal University, Chengdu 610066, China
  • Received:2021-04-20 Online:2022-08-15 Published:2022-06-23
  • Contact: YANG Qian


Abstract: Conflict adaptation refers to the dynamic modulation of conflict processing across successive trials, which depends on top-down cognitive control. Since negative affect is a critical factor which modulates cognitive control, how it influences conflict adaptation is of great interest to researchers. According to the types of negative affect, that is to say either incidental or integral, this research question can be further discussed from the separated and the integrated relationship of cognition with emotion. From the separated perspective, conflicting information is typically acted as the source to activate cognitive control, and moreover, it is also the distracting information that needs to be controlled and inhibited. In this context, the manipulation of incidental negative affect (negative stimuli vs. negative mood) is independent of conflict processing. Accordingly, the manner that negative stimuli influence conflict adaptation is by interacting with cognitive control; while the influence exerted by negative mood on adaptation is achieved by individuals’ arousal and (or) motivational levels. Another thing that needs to be noted is that whether or not negative affect is manipulated at the phasic (i.e., negative stimuli) or at the tonic (i.e., negative mood) level, their influences on conflict adaptation are indirect, which to some extent reflects the separation of negative affect with cognitive control and conflict processing more specifically. Despite of this point, it does not necessarily mean that negative affect is completely unrelated to conflict, but instead, the mismatch between individuals’ habitual response tendency and the task goal during conflict processing would induce negative affect associated with goal confusion and/or error commission. In line with this viewpoint, recent evidence obtained from behavioral, physiological, and neuroimaging studies have indicated that conflict processing automatically elicits negative affect that termed as integral negative affect. These findings suggest the inherent relationship between conflict and negative affect. Namely, that not only “cold” cognitive system involves conflict processing, “hot” affective system also engages this process. In this sense, integral negative affect can be deemed as another source to generate conflict adaptation, being acted as both “output” and “input” of conflict processing. From the integrated perspective, integral negative affect is highly integrated with conflict processing and can influence conflict adaptation in turn, which can promote conflict adaptation. The underlying mechanism is that in order to better control or inhibit conflict and concomitant negative affect, integral negative affect elicited from conflict processing inherently promote goal-related performance and effectively trigger cognitive control, ultimately contributing to the evident adaptation effect. Therefore, discussing the influence of negative affect on conflict adaptation from the insight into the relationship of cognition (conflict) with negative affect deepens our understanding regarding how negative affect exerts its impact on conflict adaptation, which also provides a new insight into how cognition integrates with emotion. On this basis, future studies can further reveal the neural mechanisms underlying the beneficial influence of conflict adaptation by integral negative affect, as well as clarify the integrated relationships between emotion regulation and cognitive control inherently.

Key words: conflict adaptation, negative affect, cognitive control, affective-signaling hypothesis

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