Cognitive Control & EEG Lab (4097 Colvard)

The Cognitive Control & EEG lab conducts research at the intersection of cognitive psychology, the study of mind and behavior from an information processing perspective, and cognitive neuroscience, the study of how the brain implements information processes.  The 2 main methodologies used to conduct research in the lab are the measurement of response time to perform cognitive tasks, and measurement of patterns of electrical voltages on the surface of the scalp (due to electrical activity of the brain, electroencephalography, EEG).  The lab has multiple computer testing stations for collecting response time data, and has 2 sets of amplifiers and electrode caps for conducting EEG studies.  The lab is currently occupying a reduced space (4097 Colvard) as the old lab space is remodeled during Summer-Fall 2012.

Cognitive Control

Cognitive control refers to regulatory processes that lead to adaptive changes in cognitive processes and behavioral actions  in response to changes in internal goals or external events.  Cognitive control processes operate in a wide range of cognitive domains, e.g., language comprehension, memory, visual attention, and motor movement.  For example, regarding regulation of action, cognitive control plays a major role in overriding prelearned motor sequences that are the default response to a sensory event in the world, but not appropriate for current goals.  Consider the typical response if a friend suddenly tosses a ball to you.  Your prelearned “default” response would likely be to reach out and catch the ball.  However, you may not want to do this.  You may instead wish to slap the ball to the ground.  The suppression of the prelearned catching motor sequence, and the shift to calculation and initiation of a new motor sequence that better fits a new goal, reflects the operation of cognitive control.

We have studied aspects of cognitive control in the lab involving (a) the ability during sentence comprehension to suppress the meanings of words (that have multiple senses) that do not match the rest of the sentence, (b) the ability to mentally reconfigure current task goals and control action during a switch in mental tasks, and (c) the ability to adapt to changes in distracting information when performing a visual discrimination task.  We are about to begin a project looking at how computer game training affects EEG measures of brain activity associated with processing speed, attention, and cognitive control.

Cognitive Aging

The lab also collaborates with the Memory & Aging lab (Dr. Kristi Multhaup) at Davidson College in studying how cognitive processes change with age.  We have completed a series of studies of how the ability to adapt to moment-by-moment changes in the amount of distracting information while performing a visual discrimination task changes with age.  We are about to begin a project looking at whether or not specialized computer game training can slow or reverse typical cognitive declines during aging.

Cognitive Neuroscience of Health Psychology

The lab also acts as a resource for graduate students in the health psychology program who want to explore issues in health psychology from a cognitive neuroscience perspective by using EEG methodology.  Past projects have included studies of EEG measures of brain activity associated with the ability to halt memory retrieval in the presence of a stimulus event (e.g., a picture) that automatically initiates memory retrieval processes, and studies of the ability of individuals with mindfulness meditation training to suppress the mental response to sensation of pain.