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Metacontrol: The Yin and Yang of cognitive control

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Traditional approaches to action control assume the existence of a more or less unitary control system that struggles with, and serves to overcome action tendencies induced by automatic processes. In this talk, I point out that and why these approaches fail to capture the complexity and dynamics of cognitive control. I describe an alternative approach that assumes that control emerges from the interaction of at least two counteracting forces: one system promoting persistence and the maintenance of action goals and another promoting mental and behavioral flexibility. I describe how this interaction might be shaped by various factors, including genetic predisposition, learning, personal experience, and the cultural context, and suggest a simple functional model (the Metacontrol State Model, MSM ) that explains how this shaping process works. Then I provide an overview of studies from various fields (including perception, attention, performance monitoring, conflict resolution, creativity, meditation, religion, and social cognition/behavior) that successfully tested predictions from the MSM .

Prof. Dr. Bernhard Hommel holds the chair of “General Psychology” at Leiden University since 1999, after having worked as senior researcher at the Max-Planck Institute for Psychological Research (PhD at the University of Bielefeld in 1990; Habilitation at the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich). He is a co-founder and board member of the Leiden Institute for Brain & Cognition (LIBC), secretary of the International Association for Attention and Performance, senator of the German National Academy of Sciences (Leopoldina), and he (co-) directs the Leiden University Research Focus “Brain function and dysfunction across the lifespan”. His research focuses on cognitive, computational, developmental, neural, and neurochemical mechanisms of human attention and action control, and the role of consciousness therein. Recent work also addresses the role of emotion, creativity, and religion in human cognition. In 2016, he received an ERC Advanced Grant for work on the impact of metacontrol on human cognition and social behaviour. He is chief editor of the journals Psychological Research and Frontiers in Cognition and has (co-) authored >330 articles in international journals, >60 chapters in readers and psychological textbooks, (co-)edited 2 books and wrote 2 textbooks on action control and the relationship between perception and action, and (co-)edited several special issues on attention and action control.

This talk is part of the Zangwill Club series.

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