Modulating flexible and stable cognitive control: Does a high reward context bias a person into a more flexible state over a stable state?
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Cognitive control has proven to be both limited and demanding, and is suggested to acquire a certain cost (Posner, & Snyder, 1975; Botvinick, & Braver, 2014). If cognitive control is costly, this raises the question what this cost entails and what mechanism underlies it. Different researchers have suggested that the feeling of cost or feeling of effort associated with implementing cognitive control is a result of an opportunity cost, which can be represented by the average reward rate of the environment (Kurzban, Duckworth, Kable, & Meyers, 2013; Constantino, & Daw, 2015). Research has suggested that the feeling of opportunity cost facilitates exploration versus exploitation, which could be translated to flexibility and stability in cognitive control. If the world is more volatile, being able to adapt quickly (flexibility) instead of focusing on one thing (stability) will be more beneficial for gaining maximum reward. That is why Cools (2006) suggests that an increase in opportunity cost could bias a person into a more flexible and less stable state through an increase of dopamine in the striatum. In our study, we investigated the hypothesis that a high reward context biases a person into a more flexible state over a stable state by manipulating the reward context in a working memory task. We investigated the effect of this manipulation on flexible and stable performance and on the subjective feeling of effort that was attributed to the two types of control. In addition, we explored the hypothesis that that the explore/exploit trade-off in foraging and the flexibility/stability trade-off in cognitive control are governed by the same mechanism. Results showed no evidence for an effect of reward context on working stable and flexible working memory performance and subjective feeling of effort. Results also showed no evidence for a relationship between the explore/exploit trade-off in foraging behavior and the flexibility/stability trade-off in working memory.
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