Psychology ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 1-24-2019


Cognitive control is critical in guiding goal-directed behavior, preparing neural resources and adapting processing to promote optimal action in a given environment. According to the Dual Mechanisms of Control theory (Braver, 2012), control can be dichotomized into proactive and reactive modes of control, utilized reciprocally in ahead-of-time preparation versus last-minute, stimulus-evoked reaction. Although a substantial body of work has tested differences between proactive control and reactive control, the underlying assumption of proactive control as a unitary process has not been systematically investigated. Very little is known as to how or when proactive control is initiated, sustained, or implemented.

As time is an integral building block of perception, cognition, and action (Buhusi & Meck, 2005), one should expect temporal information to be integrated into proactive control. Cognitive control is costly (Shenhav, Botvinick, & Cohen, 2013), and a temporally-guided modulation of control may offer substantial cost savings. By measuring proactive control on a sub-second time-scale, we can begin to gauge whether dissociable sub-types of proactive control are utilized demanding on temporal demands. Moreover, by comparing proactive control processes across different temporal demands, we can parse out when different aspects of control are computed and implemented.

Through a meta-analytic review and three empirical experiments, this dissertation provides insight into how timing dynamics may influence the computation, maintenance, and instantiation of proactive cognitive control. First, a meta-analysis on the cued control literature reveals that seemingly trivial experimental parameters shape the use of proactive versus reactive control. Two EEG studies then demonstrate how modulating timing dynamics influences prefrontal mechanisms for preparatory cognitive control. In a final EEG study, we compare the mechanisms utilized to retain control goals versus visuo-spatial working memory items.

Overall, this dissertation elucidates several novel electrophysiological mechanisms by which timing information is implemented in the computation and retention of cognitive control rules. Further, we provide evidence that individual differences in impulsivity and working memory shape distinct aspects of preparation. The findings reported here make clear that timing information is critical in guiding proactive control processes, and support a fundamental reconsideration of proactive control based on temporal dynamics.

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Level of Degree


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First Committee Member (Chair)

James F. Cavanagh

Second Committee Member

Vincent P. Clark

Third Committee Member

Jan R. Wessel

Fourth Committee Member

Ronald A. Yeo

Fifth Committee Member

Andrew R. Mayer




electrophysiology, cognitive control, proactive control, timing

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