Feedback on trait or action impacts on caudate and paracingulum activity

Alva Appelgren, Sara L. Bengtsson

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There is a general conception that positive associations to one's trait, e.g. 'I'm clever', are beneficial for cognitive performance. Scientific evidence shows that this is a simplification. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study we used written trial-based trait feedback 'you are clever', or task feedback 'your choice was correct', on each correct response of a rule-switching task, to investigate how the character of positive self-associations influences performance outcome. Twenty participants took part in this crossover design study. We found that trait feedback was less beneficial for motivation and performance improvement, and resulting in enhanced neural activation on more difficult bivalent rule trials. This indicates that the task was treated as more complex in this condition. For example, 'you are clever' feedback led to enhanced activation in anterior caudate nucleus, an area known to process uncertainty. We further observed that activation in anterior paracingulate cortex was sensitive to whether self-reflection was imposed by external feedback or generated from internal processes, where the latter activation correlated positively with performance when following after task feedback. Our results illustrate how feedback can evoke self-reflections that either help or hinder motivation and performance, most likely by impacting on processes of uncertainty. The results support social psychological models stipulating that trait focus take resources away from task focus.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0129714
JournalPLoS One
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2015

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