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Kuhbandner, Christof; Zehetleitner, Michael (2011): Dissociable effects of valence and arousal in adaptive executive control.
In: PloS one 6(12), e29287




Background: Based on introspectionist, semantic, and psychophysiological experimental frameworks, it has long been assumed that all affective states derive from two independent basic dimensions, valence and arousal. However, until now, no study has investigated whether valence and arousal are also dissociable at the level of affect-related changes in cognitive processing.Methodology/Principal Findings: We examined how changes in both valence (negative vs. positive) and arousal (low vs. high) influence performance in tasks requiring executive control because recent research indicates that two dissociable cognitive components are involved in the regulation of task performance: amount of current control (i.e., strength of filtering goal-irrelevant signals) and control adaptation (i.e., strength of maintaining current goals over time). Using a visual pop-out distractor task, we found that control is exclusively modulated by arousal because interference by goal-irrelevant signals was largest in high arousal states, independently of valence. By contrast, control adaptation is exclusively modulated by valence because the increase in control after trials in which goal-irrelevant signals were present was largest in negative states, independent of arousal. A Monte Carlo simulation revealed that differential effects of two experimental factors on control and control adaptation can be dissociated if there is no correlation between empirical interference and conflict-driven modulation of interference, which was the case in the present data. Consequently, the observed effects of valence and arousal on adaptive executive control are indeed dissociable. Conclusions/Significance: These findings indicate that affective influences on cognitive processes can be driven by independent effects of variations in valence and arousal, which may resolve several heterogeneous findings observed in previous studies on affect-cognition interactions.