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Concepts develop for many aspects of experience, including abstract internal states and abstract social activities that do not refer to concrete entities in the world. The current study assessed the hypothesis that, like concrete concepts, distributed neural patterns of relevant nonlinguistic semantic content represent the meanings of abstract concepts. In a novel neuroimaging paradigm, participants processed two abstract concepts (convince, arithmetic) and two concrete concepts (rolling, red) deeply and repeatedly during a concept-scene matching task that grounded each concept in typical contexts. Using a catch trial design, neural activity associated with each concept word was separated from neural activity associated with subsequent visual scenes to assess activations underlying the detailed semantics of each concept. We predicted that brain regions underlying mentalizing and social cognition (e.g., medial prefrontal cortex, superior temporal sulcus) would become active to represent semantic content central to convince, whereas brain regions underlying numerical cognition (e.g., bilateral intraparietal sulcus) would become active to represent semantic content central to arithmetic. The results supported these predictions, suggesting that the meanings of abstract concepts arise from distributed neural systems that represent concept-specific content.
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According to the Conceptual Act Theory of Emotion, the situated conceptualization used to construe a situation determines the emotion experienced. A neuroimaging experiment tested two core hypotheses of this theory: (1) different situated conceptualizations produce different forms of the same emotion in different situations, (2) the composition of a situated conceptualization emerges from shared multimodal circuitry distributed across the brain that produces emotional states generally. To test these hypotheses, the situation in which participants experienced an emotion was manipulated. On each trial, participants immersed themselves in a physical danger or social evaluation situation and then experienced fear or anger. According to Hypothesis 1, the brain activations for the same emotion should differ as a function of the preceding situation (after removing activations that arose while constructing the situation). According to Hypothesis 2, the critical activations should reflect conceptual processing relevant to the emotion in the current situation, drawn from shared multimodal circuitry underlying emotion. The results supported these predictions and demonstrated the compositional process that produces situated conceptualizations dynamically.
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Studies have suggested that the default mode network is active during mind wandering, which is often experienced intermittently during sustained attention tasks. Conversely, an anticorrelated task-positive network is thought to subserve various forms of attentional processing. Understanding how these two systems work together is central for understanding many forms of optimal and sub-optimal task performance. Here we present a basic model of naturalistic cognitive fluctuations between mind wandering and attentional states derived from the practice of focused attention meditation. This model proposes four intervals in a cognitive cycle: mind wandering, awareness of mind wandering, shifting of attention, and sustained attention. People who train in this style of meditation cultivate their abilities to monitor cognitive processes related to attention and distraction, making them well suited to report on these mental events. Fourteen meditation practitioners performed breath-focused meditation while undergoing fMRI scanning. When participants realized their mind had wandered, they pressed a button and returned their focus to the breath. The four intervals above were then constructed around these button presses. We hypothesized that periods of mind wandering would be associated with default mode activity, whereas cognitive processes engaged during awareness of mind wandering, shifting of attention and sustained attention would engage attentional subnetworks. Analyses revealed activity in brain regions associated with the default mode during mind wandering, and in salience network regions during awareness of mind wandering. Elements of the executive network were active during shifting and sustained attention. Furthermore, activations during these cognitive phases were modulated by lifetime meditation experience. These findings support and extend theories about cognitive correlates of distributed brain networks.

Studies have suggested that the default mode network is active during mind wandering, which is often experienced intermittently during sustained attention tasks. Conversely, an anticorrelated task-positive network is thought to subserve various forms of attentional processing. Understanding how these two systems work together is central for understanding many forms of optimal and sub-optimal task performance. Here we present a basic model of naturalistic cognitive fluctuations between mind wandering and attentional states derived from the practice of focused attention meditation. This model proposes four intervals in a cognitive cycle: mind wandering, awareness of mind wandering, shifting of attention, and sustained attention. People who train in this style of meditation cultivate their abilities to monitor cognitive processes related to attention and distraction, making them well suited to report on these mental events. Fourteen meditation practitioners performed breath-focused meditation while undergoing fMRI scanning. When participants realized their mind had wandered, they pressed a button and returned their focus to the breath. The four intervals above were then constructed around these button presses. We hypothesized that periods of mind wandering would be associated with default mode activity, whereas cognitive processes engaged during awareness of mind wandering, shifting of attention and sustained attention would engage attentional subnetworks. Analyses revealed activity in brain regions associated with the default mode during mind wandering, and in salience network regions during awareness of mind wandering. Elements of the executive network were active during shifting and sustained attention. Furthermore, activations during these cognitive phases were modulated by lifetime meditation experience. These findings support and extend theories about cognitive correlates of distributed brain networks.
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Research on the “emotional brain” remains centered around the idea that emotions like fear, happiness, and sadness result from specialized and distinct neural circuitry. Accumulating behavioral and physiological evidence suggests, instead, that emotions are grounded in core affect—a person’s fluctuating level of pleasant or unpleasant arousal. A neuroimaging study revealed that participants’ subjective ratings of valence (i.e., pleasure/displeasure) and of arousal evoked by various fear, happiness, and sadness experiences correlated with neural activity in specific brain regions (orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala, respectively). We observed these correlations across diverse instances within each emotion category, as well as across instances from all three categories. Consistent with a psychological construction approach to emotion, the results suggest that neural circuitry realizes more basic processes across discrete emotions. The implicated brain regions regulate the body to deal with the world, producing the affective changes at the core of emotions and many other psychological phenomena.
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Psychological construction approaches to emotion suggest that emotional experience is situated and dynamic. Fear, for example, is typically studied in a physical danger context (e.g., threatening snake), but in the real world, it often occurs in social contexts, especially those involving social evaluation (e.g., public speaking). Understanding situated emotional experience is critical because adaptive responding is guided by situational context (e.g., inferring the intention of another in a social evaluation situation vs. monitoring the environment in a physical danger situation). In an fMRI study, we assessed situated emotional experience using a newly developed paradigm in which participants vividly imagine different scenarios from a first-person perspective, in this case scenarios involving either social evaluation or physical danger. We hypothesized that distributed neural patterns would underlie immersion in social evaluation and physical danger situations, with shared activity patterns across both situations in multiple sensory modalities and in circuitry involved in integrating salient sensory information, and with unique activity patterns for each situation type in coordinated large-scale networks that reflect situated responding. More specifically, we predicted that networks underlying the social inference and mentalizing involved in responding to a social threat (in regions that make up the “default mode” network) would be reliably more active during social evaluation situations. In contrast, networks underlying the visuospatial attention and action planning involved in responding to a physical threat would be reliably more active during physical danger situations. The results supported these hypotheses. In line with emerging psychological construction approaches, the findings suggest that coordinated brain networks offer a systematic way to interpret the distributed patterns that underlie the diverse situational contexts characterizing emotional life.
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The tremendous variability within categories of human emotional experience receives little empirical attention. We hypothesized that atypical instances of emotion categories (e.g. pleasant fear of thrill-seeking) would be processed less efficiently than typical instances of emotion categories (e.g. unpleasant fear of violent threat) in large-scale brain networks. During a novel fMRI paradigm, participants immersed themselves in scenarios designed to induce atypical and typical experiences of fear, sadness or happiness (scenario immersion), and then focused on and rated the pleasant or unpleasant feeling that emerged (valence focus) in most trials. As predicted, reliably greater activity in the 'default mode' network (including medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate) was observed for atypical (vs typical) emotional experiences during scenario immersion, suggesting atypical instances require greater conceptual processing to situate the socio-emotional experience. During valence focus, reliably greater activity was observed for atypical (vs typical) emotional experiences in the 'salience' network (including anterior insula and anterior cingulate), suggesting atypical instances place greater demands on integrating shifting body signals with the sensory and social context. Consistent with emerging psychological construction approaches to emotion, these findings demonstrate that is it important to study the variability within common categories of emotional experience.
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