Hot cognition and activation of the medial prefrontal cortex: Self-regulating in contexts involving motivational pressures
van Noordt, Stefon Jan Ross
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The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is involved in performance-monitoring and has been implicated in the generation of several electrocortical responses associated with self-regulation. The error-related negativity (ERN), the inhibitory Nogo N2 (N2), and the feedback-related negativity (FRN) are event-related potential (ERP) components which reflect mPFC activity associated with feedback to behavioural (ERN, N2) and environmental (FRN) consequences. Our main goal was to determine whether or not rnPFC activation varies as a function of motivational context (e.g., those involving performance-related incentives) or the use of internally versus externally generated feedback signals (i.e., errors). Additionally, we assessed medial prefrontal activity in relation to individual differences in personality and temperament. Participants completed a combination of tasks in which performance-related incentives were associated with task performance and feedback generated from internal versus external responses. MPFC activity was indexed using both ERP scalp voltage peaks and intracerebral current source density (CSD) of dorsal and ventral regions. Additionally, participants completed several questionnaires assessing personality and temperament styles. Given previous studies have shown that enhanced mPFC activity to loss (or negative) feedback, we expected that activity in the mPFC would generally be greater during the Loss condition relative to the Win condition for both the ERN and N2. Also, due to the evidence that the (vmPFC) is engaged in arousing contexts, we hypothesized that activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) would be greater than activity in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC), especially in the Loss condition of the GoNogo task (ERN). Similarly, loss feedback in the BART (FRN) was expected to engage the vmPFC more than the dmPFC. Finally, we predicted that persons rating themselves as more willing to engage in approach-related behaviours or to exhibit rigid cognitive styles would show reduced activity of the mPFC. Overall, our results emphasize the role of affective evaluations of behavioural and environmental consequences when self-regulating. Although there were no effects of context on brain activity, our data indicate that, during the time of the ERN and N2 on the MW Go-Nogo task and the FRN on the BART, the vrnPFC was more active compared to the dmPFC. Moreover, regional recruitment in the mPFC was similar across internally (ERN) and externally (FRN) generated errors signals associated with loss feedback, as reflected by relatively greater activity in the vmPFC than the dmPFC. Our data also suggest that greater activity in the mPFC is associated with better inhibitory control, as reflected by both scalp and CSD measures. Additionally, deactivation of the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) and lower levels of self-reported positive affect were both related to increased voluntary risk-taking on the BART. Finally, persons reporting higher levels of approach-related behaviour or cognitive rigidity showed reduced activity of the mPFC. These results are in line with previous research emphasizing that affect/motivation is central to the processes reflected by mediofrontal negativities (MFNs), that the vmPFC is involved in regulating demands on motivational/affective systems, and that the underlying mechanisms driving these functions vary across both individuals and contexts.