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Affect and Emotions in Social Cognition: How Feelings Influence Thinking  

Joseph P. Forgas

Affective states have a profound influence on how people view the world, yet the cognitive consequences of feelings for thinking have received relatively little attention until recently. There is growing evidence that people’s affective reactions have been shaped by evolutionary processes and have an adaptive influence on the way information is processed. There is now extensive evidence for the adaptive benefits of positive and negative affect for the way people think and process social information. Based on recent experimental research, there are two kinds of affective influences: affect congruence, in which an affective state influences the content and valence of thinking, and processing effects, where an affective state has a regulatory influence on the kind of processing strategy adopted. The evidence shows a broad spectrum of affective influences on memory, attention, inferences, associations, and judgments, as well as the way more complex social behaviors are planned and executed. All affective states, including the negative ones, confer significant adaptive benefits, serving as useful inputs to information processing strategies. These experimental findings, and recent theories linking affect and cognition have important practical implications for understanding how affective states influence everyday thinking and behavior.


Influence of Anxiety on Cognitive Control Processes  

DeMond M. Grant and Evan J. White

Cognitive control is the ability to direct attention and cognitive resources toward achieving one’s goals. However, research indicates that anxiety biases multiple cognitive processes, including cognitive control. This occurs in part because anxiety leads to excessive processing of threatening stimuli at the expense of ongoing activities. This enhanced processing of threat interferes with several cognitive processes, which includes how individuals view and respond to their environment. Specifically, research indicates that anxious individuals devote their attention toward threat when considering both early, automatic processes and later, sustained attention. In addition, anxiety has negative effects on working memory, which involves the ability to hold and manipulate information in one’s consciousness. Anxiety has been found to decrease the resources necessary for effective working memory performance, as well as increase the likelihood of negative information entering working memory. Finally, anxiety is characterized by focusing excessive attention on mistakes, and there is also a reduction in the cognitive control resources necessary to correct behavior. Enhancing our knowledge of how anxiety affects cognitive control has broad implications for understanding the development of anxiety disorders, as well as emerging treatments for these conditions.


Perceptual Learning: Perception and Experience  

Barbara Anne Dosher and Zhong-Lin Lu

Perceptual learning is the training-induced improvement in the accuracy or speed of relevant perceptual decisions about what is seen, heard, or felt. It occurs in all sensory modalities and in most tasks. The magnitude and generalizability of this learning may, however, depend on the stimulus modality, the level of sensory representation most aligned to the task, and the methods of training, including attention, feedback, reward, and the training protocol. What is known about perceptual learning in multiple modalities has been advanced based on behavioral studies and consideration of physiology and brain imaging, and the theoretical and computational models that systematize and promote understanding of the complex patterns of perceptual learning. Perceptual training might be used in translational applications, such as education, remediation of perceptual deficits, or maintenance of performance.


Negotiation and Bargaining  

Wolfgang Steinel and Fieke Harinck

Bargaining and negotiation are the most constructive ways to handle conflict. Economic prosperity, order, harmony, and enduring social relationships are more likely to be reached by parties who decide to work together toward agreements that satisfy everyone’s interests than by parties who fight openly, dominate one another, break off contact, or take their dispute to an authority to resolve. There are two major research paradigms: distributive and integrative negotiation. Distributive negotiation (“bargaining”) focuses on dividing scarce resources and is studied in social dilemma research. Integrative negotiation focuses on finding mutually beneficial agreements and is studied in decision-making negotiation tasks with multiple issues. Negotiation behavior can be categorized by five different styles: distributive negotiation is characterized by forcing, compromising, or yielding behavior in which each party gives and takes; integrative negotiation is characterized by problem-solving behavior in which parties search for mutually beneficial agreements. Avoiding is the fifth negotiation style, in which parties do not negotiate. Cognitions (what people think about the negotiation) and emotions (how they feel about the negotiation and the other party) affect negotiation behavior and outcomes. Most cognitive biases hinder the attainment of integrative agreements. Emotions have intrapersonal and interpersonal effects, and can help or hinder the negotiation. Aspects of the social context, such as gender, power, cultural differences, and group constellations, affect negotiation behaviors and outcomes as well. Although gender differences in negotiation exist, they are generally small and are usually caused by stereotypical ideas about gender and negotiation. Power differences affect negotiation in such a way that the more powerful party usually has an advantage. Different cultural norms dictate how people will behave in a negotiation. Aspects of the situational context of a negotiation are, for example, time, communication media, and conflict issues. Communication media differ in whether they contain visual and acoustic channels, and whether they permit synchronous communication. The richness of the communication channel can help unacquainted negotiators to reach a good agreement, yet it can lead negotiators with a negative relationship into a conflict spiral. Conflict issues can be roughly categorized in scarce resources (money, time, land) on the one hand, and norms and values on the other. Negotiation is more feasible when dividing scarce resources, and when norms and values are at play in the negotiation, people generally have a harder time to find agreements, since the usual give and take is no longer feasible. Areas of future research include communication, ethics, physiological or hormonal correlates, or personality factors in negotiations.


Visual Attention With Cognitive Aging  

David J. Madden and Zachary A. Monge

Age-related decline occurs in several aspects of fluid, speed-dependent cognition, particularly those related to attention. Empirical research on visual attention has determined that attention-related effects occur across a range of information processing components, including the sensory registration of features, selection of information from working memory, controlling motor responses, and coordinating multiple perceptual and cognitive tasks. Thus, attention is a multifaceted construct that is relevant at virtually all stages of object identification. A fundamental theme of attentional functioning is the interaction between the bottom-up salience of visual features and top-down allocation of processing based on the observer’s goals. An underlying age-related slowing is prominent throughout visual processing stages, which in turn contributes to age-related decline in some aspects of attention, such as the inhibition of irrelevant information and the coordination of multiple tasks. However, some age-related preservation of attentional functioning is also evident, particularly the top-down allocation of attention. Neuroimaging research has identified networks of frontal and parietal brain regions relevant for top-down and bottom-up attentional processing. Disconnection among these networks contributes to an age-related decline in attention, but preservation and perhaps even increased patterns of functional brain activation and connectivity also contribute to preserved attentional functioning.


Hearing and Cognitive Aging  

Margaret Kathleen Pichora-Fuller

Age-related hearing loss is heterogeneous. Multiple causes can damage the auditory system from periphery to cortex. There can be changes in thresholds for detecting sound and/or in the perception of supra-threshold sounds. Influenced by trends in neuroscience and gerontology, research has shifted from a relatively narrow modality-specific focus to a broader interest in how auditory aging interacts with other domains of aging. The importance of the connection between sensory and cognitive aging was reported based on findings from the Berlin Aging Study in the mid-1990s. Of the age-related sensory and motor declines that become more prevalent with age, hearing loss is the most common, and it is the most promising as an early marker for risk of cognitive decline and as a potentially modifiable mid-life risk factor for dementia. Hearing loss affects more than half of the population by 70 years of age and about 80% of people over 80 years of age. It is more prevalent in people with dementia than in peers with normal cognition. People with hearing loss can be up to five times more likely to develop dementia compared to those with normal hearing. Evidence from cross-sectional studies has confirmed significant correlations between hearing loss and cognitive decline in older adults. Longitudinal studies have demonstrated that hearing loss is associated with incident cognitive decline and dementia. Various biological, psychological, and social mechanisms have been hypothesized to account for these associations, but the causes remain unproven. Nevertheless, it is widely believed that there is a meaningful interface among sensory, motor, and cognitive dysfunctions in aging, with implications for issues spanning brain plasticity to quality of life. Experimental research investigating sensory-motor-cognitive interactions provides insights into how age-related declines in these domains may be exacerbated or compensated. Ongoing research on auditory aging and how it interfaces with cognitive aging is expected to increase knowledge of the neuroscience of aging, provide insights into how to optimize the everyday functioning of older adults, and inspire innovations in clinical practice and social policy.