Opening Your Mind

Kevin Lewis

December 19, 2021

Awe motivates authentic-self pursuit via self-transcendence: Implications for prosociality
Tonglin Jiang & Constantine Sedikides
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

We propose that the emotion of awe (i.e., challenge that exceeds the scope of one's mental structures, requiring cognitive accommodation) awakens self-transcendence (i.e., reaching beyond one's self-boundary), which in turn invigorates pursuit of the authentic self (i.e., alignment with one's true self). This process has implications for prosociality. We supported our theoretical model in 14 studies (N = 4,438) using distinct awe manipulations or measures, employing different assessments of authentic-self pursuit, testing participants both in laboratory and field settings, and involving samples from both collectivistic and individualistic cultures. In Studies 1-2 (N = 828), dispositional awe was positively associated with authentic-self pursuit and induced awe motivated authentic-self pursuit. In Studies 2-9 (N = 2,461), dispositional awe was positively associated with, and induced awe strengthened, authentic-self pursuit via self-transcendence. These effects were independent of pride and happiness. In Study 10 (N = 281), self-smallness (i.e., a sense of self as small and insignificant), albeit induced by awe, did not account for the unique effects of awe on authentic-self pursuit via self-transcendence. Finally, in Studies 11-14 (N = 868), awe-induced authentic-self pursuit was linked with higher general prosociality, but lower inauthentic prosociality. The findings invite a reexamination of awe's relation with the self, while highlighting the complexity and intricacy of that relation. 

Reading the mind with a mask? Improvement in reading the mind in the eyes during the COVID-19 pandemic
Nitzan Trainin & Yaara Yeshurun
Emotion, forthcoming

The necessity to wear facial masks in public during the COVID-19 pandemic generated a unique situation where the eyes' importance as a visual source of information about individuals' mental and emotional states greatly increased. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that experience in looking in interlocutor's eyes (as a result of mask-wearing) will be correlated with enhanced performance on "reading the mind in the eyes test" (RMET). To test this, 87 participants performed an online version of the RMET at 2 different timepoints: when the mandatory mask wearing rules were put in place and a month later. We found that reported tendency to look at interlocutors' eyes, combined with experience in interacting with other people wearing masks, explained individual differences in RMET performance. Moreover, we found that individual's tendency to look at interlocutors' eyes was correlated with change in performance in reading the mind in the eyes over this month. These results suggest that in addition to individual's interest and motivation in understanding other's mental state, continuous everyday experiences can result in an improved capacity for reading mental and emotional states by looking into individuals' eyes.

Psychedelics alter metaphysical beliefs
Christopher Timmermann et al.
Scientific Reports, November 2021

Can the use of psychedelic drugs induce lasting changes in metaphysical beliefs? While it is popularly believed that they can, this question has never been formally tested. Here we exploited a large sample derived from prospective online surveying to determine whether and how beliefs concerning the nature of reality, consciousness, and free-will, change after psychedelic use. Results revealed significant shifts away from 'physicalist' or 'materialist' views, and towards panpsychism and fatalism, post use. With the exception of fatalism, these changes endured for at least 6 months, and were positively correlated with the extent of past psychedelic-use and improved mental-health outcomes. Path modelling suggested that the belief-shifts were moderated by impressionability at baseline and mediated by perceived emotional synchrony with others during the psychedelic experience. The observed belief-shifts post-psychedelic-use were consolidated by data from an independent controlled clinical trial. Together, these findings imply that psychedelic-use may causally influence metaphysical beliefs-shifting them away from 'hard materialism'. We discuss whether these apparent effects are contextually independent. 

Highly processed food intake and immediate and future emotions in everyday life
Jenna Cummings et al.
Appetite, forthcoming

Increased consumption of highly processed foods may result in lower diet quality, and low diet quality is associated with elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. One mechanism driving highly processed food intake is the expectation that eating these foods will improve emotional experiences, particularly among individuals with elevated "highly processed food addiction" symptoms. However, experimental findings about the emotional experiences following highly processed food intake are mixed. Furthermore, prior studies have generally failed to capture the potentially prolonged emotional effects of eating highly processed foods and not tested for individual differences. The present study was a preregistered archival data analysis of an ambulatory electronic diary study that captured real-life emotions following highly processed food intake. Multilevel modeling was used to predict the effects of highly processed food intake on subsequent positive and negative emotions immediately, one hour, and three hours after consumption. Intake of sweet high-fat food, fast foods, and non-alcoholic sugary drinks was associated with greater positive emotions immediately after eating, and sweet high-fat food intake remained associated with greater positive emotions one hour later. Sweet high-fat food and non-alcoholic sugary drink intake were associated with fewer negative emotions one hour after consumption, and the negative association between non-alcoholic sugary drink intake and negative emotions was stronger for those with elevated highly processed food addiction symptoms. Overall, results suggest that highly processed food intake results in small alterations in positive and negative emotions immediately and up to one hour after intake; however, these do not persist through three hours after intake. The ability of highly processed foods to briefly alter emotions may be key to their reinforcing nature. 

You do it to yourself: Attentional capture by threat-signaling stimuli persists even when entirely counterproductive
Samantha Mikhael et al.
Emotion, forthcoming

Recent research has demonstrated a counterproductive attentional bias toward threat-related stimuli: under conditions in which fixating on a color distractor stimulus sometimes resulted in an immediate shock, participants were nevertheless more likely to look at this threat-related distractor than a neutral distractor matched for physical salience. However, participants in that prior research may not have realized that their own actions caused delivery of aversive outcomes, such that monitoring for the threat-related distractor may not have been counterproductive from participants' perspective. In Experiment 1 of the current study, we demonstrate that the attentional bias to the threat-related distractor persists (and indeed, becomes stronger) when participants are made explicitly aware that looking at this stimulus is the sole cause of aversive events, which are otherwise avoidable. In Experiment 2 we replicate the bias in informed participants under conditions in which there is additional (reward-driven) motivation to avoid attending to distractors. Taken together with prior findings, the observation of an attentional bias toward the threat-related distractor under these explicitly counterproductive conditions provides strong support for the idea that threat-related stimuli are automatically prioritized by our attentional system. 

Closed-loop enhancement and neural decoding of cognitive control in humans
Ishita Basu et al.
Nature Biomedical Engineering, forthcoming

Deficits in cognitive control - that is, in the ability to withhold a default pre-potent response in favour of a more adaptive choice - are common in depression, anxiety, addiction and other mental disorders. Here we report proof-of-concept evidence that, in participants undergoing intracranial epilepsy monitoring, closed-loop direct stimulation of the internal capsule or striatum, especially the dorsal sites, enhances the participants' cognitive control during a conflict task. We also show that closed-loop stimulation upon the detection of lapses in cognitive control produced larger behavioural changes than open-loop stimulation, and that task performance for single trials can be directly decoded from the activity of a small number of electrodes via neural features that are compatible with existing closed-loop brain implants. Closed-loop enhancement of cognitive control might remediate underlying cognitive deficits and aid the treatment of severe mental disorders. 

Dopamine, Cognitive Flexibility, and IQ: Epistatic Catechol-O-MethylTransferase:DRD2 Gene-Gene Interactions Modulate Mental Rigidity
Leor Zmigrod & Trevor Robbins
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, January 2021, Pages 153-179

Cognitive flexibility has been hypothesized to be neurochemically rooted in dopamine neurotransmission. Nonetheless, underpowered sample sizes and contradictory meta-analytic findings have obscured the role of dopamine genes in cognitive flexibility and neglected potential gene-gene interactions. In this largest neurocognitive-genetic study to date (n = 1400), single nucleotide polymorphisms associated with elevated prefrontal dopamine levels (catechol-O-methyltransferase; rs4680) and diminished striatal dopamine (C957T; rs6277) were both implicated in Wisconsin Card Sorting Test performance. Crucially, however, these genetic effects were only evident in low-IQ participants, suggesting high intelligence compensates for, and eliminates, the effect of dispositional dopamine functioning on flexibility. This interaction between cognitive systems may explain and resolve previous empirical inconsistencies in highly educated participant samples. Moreover, compensatory gene-gene interactions were discovered between catechol-O-methyltransferase and DRD2, such that genotypes conferring either elevated prefrontal dopamine or diminished striatal dopamine - via heightened striatally concentrated D2 dopamine receptor availability - are sufficient for cognitive flexibility, but neither is necessary. The study has therefore revealed a form of epistatic redundancy or substitutability among dopamine systems in shaping adaptable thought and action, thus defining boundary conditions for dopaminergic effects on flexible behavior. These results inform theories of clinical disorders and psychopharmacological interventions and uncover complex fronto-striatal synergies in human flexible cognition.


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