Mental Effort and Information-Processing Costs Are Inversely Related to Global Brain Free Energy During Visual Categorization.
ABSTRACT: Mental effort is a neurocognitive process that reflects the controlled expenditure of psychological information-processing resources during perception, cognition, and action. There is a practical need to operationalize and measure mental effort in order to minimize detrimental effects of mental fatigue on real-world human performance. Previous research has identified several neurocognitive indices of mental effort, but these indices are indirect measures that are also sensitive to experimental demands or general factors such as sympathetic arousal. The present study investigated a potential direct neurocognitive index of mental effort based in theories where bounded rational decision makers (realized as embodied brains) are modeled as generalized thermodynamic systems. This index is called free energy, an information-theoretic system property of the brain that reflects the difference between the brain's current and predicted states. Theory predicts that task-related differences in a decision makers' free energy are inversely related to information-processing costs related to task decisions. The present study tested this prediction by quantifying global brain free energy from electroencephalographic (EEG) measures of human brain function. EEG signals were recorded while participants engaged in two visual categorization tasks in which categorization decisions resulted from the allocation of different levels of mental information processing resources. A novel method was developed to quantify brain free energy from machine learning classification of EEG trials. Participant information-processing resource costs were estimated via computational analysis of behavior, whereas the subjective expression of mental effort was estimated via participant ratings of mental workload. Following theoretical predictions, task-related differences in brain free energy negatively correlated with increased allocation of information-processing resource costs. These brain free energy differences were smaller for the visual categorization task that required a greater versus lesser allocation of information-processing resources. Ratings of mental workload were positively correlated with information-processing resource costs, and negatively correlated with global brain free energy differences, only for the categorization task requiring the larger amount of information-processing resource costs. These findings support theoretical thermodynamic approaches to decision making and provide the first empirical evidence of a relationship between mental effort, brain free energy, and neurocognitive information-processing.
Project description:Visual stimuli often dominate nonvisual stimuli during multisensory perception. Evidence suggests higher cognitive processes prioritize visual over nonvisual stimuli during divided attention. Visual stimuli should thus be disproportionally distracting when processing incongruent cross-sensory stimulus pairs. We tested this assumption by comparing visual processing with olfaction, a "primitive" sensory channel that detects potentially hazardous chemicals by alerting attention. Behavioral and event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were assessed in a bimodal object categorization task with congruent or incongruent odor-picture pairings and a delayed auditory target that indicated whether olfactory or visual cues should be categorized. For congruent pairings, accuracy was higher for visual compared to olfactory decisions. However, for incongruent pairings, reaction times (RTs) were faster for olfactory decisions. Behavioral results suggested that incongruent odors interfered more with visual decisions, thereby providing evidence for an "olfactory dominance" effect. Categorization of incongruent pairings engendered a late "slow wave" ERP effect. Importantly, this effect had a later amplitude peak and longer latency during visual decisions, likely reflecting additional categorization effort for visual stimuli in the presence of incongruent odors. In sum, contrary to what might be inferred from theories of "visual dominance," incongruent odors may in fact uniquely attract mental processing resources during perceptual incongruence.
Project description:OBJECTIVE:The advent of functional MRI (fMRI) enables the identification of brain regions recruited for specific behavioral tasks. Most fMRI studies focus on group effects in single tasks, which limits applicability where assessment of individual differences and multiple brain systems is needed. METHOD:We demonstrate the feasibility of concurrently measuring fMRI activation patterns and performance on a computerized neurocognitive battery (CNB) in 212 healthy individuals at 2 sites. Cross-validated sparse regression of regional brain amplitude and extent of activation were used to predict concurrent performance on 6 neurocognitive tasks: abstraction/mental flexibility, attention, emotion processing, and verbal, face, and spatial memory. RESULTS:Brain activation was task responsive and domain specific, as reported in previous single-task studies. Prediction of performance was robust for most tasks, particularly for abstraction/mental flexibility and visuospatial memory. CONCLUSIONS:The feasibility of administering a comprehensive neuropsychological battery in the scanner was established, and task-specific brain activation patterns improved prediction beyond demographic information. This benchmark index of performance-associated brain activation can be applied to link brain activation with neurocognitive performance during standardized testing. This first step in standardizing a neurocognitive battery for use in fMRI may enable quantitative assessment of patients with brain disorders across multiple cognitive domains. Such data may facilitate identification of neural dysfunction associated with poor performance, allow for identification of individuals at risk for brain disorders, and help guide early intervention and rehabilitation of neurocognitive deficits.
Project description:Social categorization is the differentiation between the self and others and between one's own group and other groups and it is such a natural and spontaneous process that often we are not aware of it. The way in which the brain organizes social categorization remains an unresolved issue. We present three experiments investigating the hypothesis that social categories are mentally ordered from left to right on an ingroup-outgroup continuum when membership is salient. To substantiate our hypothesis, we consider empirical evidence from two areas of psychology: research on differences in processing of ingroups and outgroups and research on the effects of spatial biases on processing of quantitative information (e.g., time; numbers) which appears to be arranged from left to right on a small-large continuum, an effect known as the spatial-numerical association of response codes (SNARC). In Experiments 1 and 2 we tested the hypothesis that when membership of a social category is activated, people implicitly locate ingroup categories to the left of a mental line whereas outgroup categories are located on the far right of the same mental line. This spatial organization persists even when stimuli are presented on one of the two sides of the screen and their (explicit) position is spatially incompatible with the implicit mental spatial organization of social categories (Experiment 3). Overall the results indicate that ingroups and outgroups are processed differently. The results are discussed with respect to social categorization theory, spatial agency bias, i.e., the effect observed in Western cultures whereby the agent of an action is mentally represented on the left and the recipient on the right, and the SNARC effect.
Project description:Deceptive behavior is common in human social interactions. Researchers have been trying to uncover the cognitive process and neural basis underlying deception due to its theoretical and practical significance. We used Event-related potentials (ERPs) to investigate the neural correlates of deception when the participants completed a hazard judgment task. Pictures conveying or not conveying hazard information were presented to the participants who were then requested to discriminate the hazard content (safe or hazardous) and make a response corresponding to the cues (truthful or deceptive). Behavioral and electrophysiological data were recorded during the entire experiment. Results showed that deceptive responses, compared to truthful responses, were associated with longer reaction time (RT), lower accuracy, increased N2 and reduced late positive potential (LPP), suggesting a cognitively more demanding process to respond deceptively. The decrement in LPP correlated negatively with the increment in RT for deceptive relative to truthful responses, regardless of hazard content. In addition, hazardous information evoked larger N1 and P300 than safe information, reflecting an early processing bias and a later evaluative categorization process based on motivational significance, respectively. Finally, the interaction between honesty (truthful/deceptive) and safety (safe/hazardous) on accuracy and LPP indicated that deceptive responses towards safe information required more effort than deceptive responses towards hazardous information. Overall, these results demonstrate the neurocognitive substrates underlying deception about hazard information.
Project description:Keeping track of various amounts of social cognitive information, including people's mental states, traits, and relationships, is fundamental to navigating social interactions. However, to date, no research has examined which brain regions support variable amounts of social information processing ("social load"). We developed a social working memory paradigm to examine the brain networks sensitive to social load. Two networks showed linear increases in activation as a function of increasing social load: the medial frontoparietal regions implicated in social cognition and the lateral frontoparietal system implicated in nonsocial forms of working memory. Of these networks, only load-dependent medial frontoparietal activity was associated with individual differences in social cognitive ability (trait perspective-taking). Although past studies of nonsocial load have uniformly found medial frontoparietal activity decreases with increasing task demands, the current study demonstrates these regions do support increasing mental effort when such effort engages social cognition. Implications for the etiology of clinical disorders that implicate social functioning and potential interventions are discussed.
Project description:The attachment-based perspective on teacher-student relationships assumes that teachers internalize experiences with specific students into mental representations of dyadic relationships. Once activated, mental representations are believed to influence teachers' affective and cognitive social information processing. Two priming experiments with 57 elementary school teachers were conducted to test these assumptions. To activate teachers' mental representations of dyadic relationships, teachers were primed with photographs of students with whom they have a positive and negative relationship (two experimental conditions) as well as with photographs of students with whom they have a distant relationship and unknown students (two control conditions). Teachers' responses in two different experiments -an emotion categorization task and a vignette task -were analyzed to measure differences between conditions. Mixed evidence was found for the idea that teachers' mental representations of dyadic relationships impact their affective and cognitive information processing.
Project description:The neurocognitive components of Theory of Mind reasoning remain poorly understood. In particular the role of the posterior medial prefrontal cortex in the processing of other's mental states such as beliefs that are incongruent with one's own knowledge of reality is not clear-cut. It is unknown whether this region is involved in computing discrepant mental states or in subsequently resolving a response conflict between the discrepant others' and one's own beliefs. To test this, we adapted a false belief paradigm for the separate inspection of functional brain activity related to (1) the computation of diverging beliefs and (2) the subsequent consideration and selection of another's or one's own belief. Based on statistical parametric findings from functional neuroimaging, we employed dynamic causal modelling combined with Bayesian model selection to further characterize the interplay of resulting brain regions. In the initial computation of diverging beliefs, the posterior medial prefrontal cortex (pMPFC) and the bilateral temporoparietal cortex were crucially involved. The findings suggest that the bilateral temporal cortex engages in the construction and adjustment of diverging mental states by encoding relevant environmental information. The pMPFC inhibits this stimulus-bound processing which helps to compute discrepant mental states and process another's false belief decoupled from one's own perception of reality. In the subsequent question phase the right temporoparietal cortex showed increased activity related to switching to and reconsidering another's beliefs in order to select the correct response.
Project description:The possibility that we will have to invest effort influences our future choice behavior. Indeed deciding whether an action is actually worth taking is a key element in the expression of human apathy or inertia. There is a well developed literature on brain activity related to the anticipation of effort, but how effort affects actual choice is less well understood. Furthermore, prior work is largely restricted to mental as opposed to physical effort or has confounded temporal with effortful costs. Here we investigated choice behavior and brain activity, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, in a study where healthy participants are required to make decisions between effortful gripping, where the factors of force (high and low) and reward (high and low) were varied, and a choice of merely holding a grip device for minimal monetary reward. Behaviorally, we show that force level influences the likelihood of choosing an effortful grip. We observed greater activity in the putamen when participants opt to grip an option with low effort compared with when they opt to grip an option with high effort. The results suggest that, over and above a nonspecific role in movement anticipation and salience, the putamen plays a crucial role in computations for choice that involves effort costs.
Project description:Successful decision making often requires weighing a given option's costs against its associated benefits, an ability that appears perturbed in virtually every severe mental illness. Animal models of such cost/benefit decision making overwhelmingly implicate mesolimbic dopamine in our willingness to exert effort for a larger reward. Until recently, however, animal models have invariably manipulated the degree of physical effort, whereas human studies of effort have primarily relied on cognitive costs. Dopamine's relationship to cognitive effort has not been directly examined, nor has the relationship between individuals' willingness to expend mental versus physical effort. It is therefore unclear whether willingness to work hard in one domain corresponds to willingness in the other. Here we utilize a rat cognitive effort task (rCET), wherein animals can choose to allocate greater visuospatial attention for a greater reward, and a previously established physical effort-discounting task (EDT) to examine dopaminergic and noradrenergic contributions to effort. The dopamine antagonists eticlopride and SCH23390 each decreased willingness to exert physical effort on the EDT; these drugs had no effect on willingness to exert mental effort for the rCET. Preference for the high effort option correlated across the two tasks, although this effect was transient. These results suggest that dopamine is only minimally involved in cost/benefit decision making with cognitive effort costs. The constructs of mental and physical effort may therefore comprise overlapping, but distinct, circuitry, and therapeutic interventions that prove efficacious in one effort domain may not be beneficial in another.