Among three different executive functions, general executive control ability is a key predictor of decision making under objective risk

Abstract folgt

Schiebener, J., Wegmann, E., Gathmann, B., Laier, C., Pawlikowski, M. & Brand, M. (2014). Among three different executive functions, general executive control ability is a key predictor of decision making under objective risk. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1386.

Internet addiction: Coping styles, expectancies, and treatment implication

Abstract

Internet addiction (IA) has become a serious mental health condition in many countries. To better understand the clinical implications of IA, this study tested statistically a new theoretical model illustrating underlying cognitive mechanisms contributing to development and maintenance of the disorder. The model differentiates between a generalized Internet addiction (GIA) and specific forms. This study tested the model on GIA on a population of general Internet users. The findings from 1019 users show that the hypothesized structural equation model explained 63.5% of the variance of GIA symptoms, as measured by the short version of the Internet Addiction Test. Using psychological and personality testing, the results show that a person’s specific cognitions (poor coping and cognitive expectations) increased the risk for GIA. These two factors mediated the symptoms of GIA if other risk factors were present such as depression, social anxiety, low self-esteem, low self-efficacy, and high stress vulnerability to name a few areas that were measured in the study. The model shows that individuals with high coping skills and no expectancies that the Internet can be used to increase positive or reduce negative mood are less likely to engage in problematic Internet use, even when other personality or psychological vulnerabilities are present. The implications for treatment include a clear cognitive component to the development of GIA and the need to assess a patient’s coping style and cognitions and improve faulty thinking to reduce symptoms and engage in recovery.

Brand, M., Laier, C. & Young, K. (2014). Internet addiction: Coping styles, expectancies, and treatment implication. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1256.

Cue-induced craving in pathological buying: empirical evidence and clinical implications

Abstract

Objective: Pathological buying is associated with marked distress and impaired functioning in important life domains. It is currently under debate whether pathological buying can be considered a behavioral addiction. In analogy to results reported in addicted individuals, craving reactions elicited by addiction-related cues might be an underlying mechanism for the etiology and pathogenesis of pathological buying.

Methods: In the present study, 30 pathological buyers and 30 matched control participants were examined with a cue-reactivity paradigm consisting of shopping and control cues. Skin conductance responses, as well as subjective ratings for arousal, valence, and urge to buy, were assessed. Subjective craving reactions were measured before and after the cue-reactivity paradigm.

Results: On a physiological level, skin conductance responses toward shopping cues were higher in pathological buyers (mean [M; standard deviation {SD}] = 0.26 [0.13]) compared with control participants (M [SD] = 0.19 [0.09]; t(58) = 2.29, p = .025, d = 0.60). On a behavioral level, the individuals with pathological buying rated the shopping cues as more arousing and more positive, and reported a greater urge to buy compared with control participants and with control cues. An increase in subjective craving after completing the cue-reactivity paradigm was observed only in the pathological buyers (Mpre [SD] = 1.95 [1.47], Mpost [SD] = 2.87 [1.79]; t(29) = 5.07, p < .001, d = 0.97).

Conclusions: Cue-reactivity and craving might be potential correlates for the development and maintenance of pathological buying. The results demonstrate similarities between pathological buying and substance or behavioral addictions and provide implications for clinical treatment.

Trotzke, P., Starcke, K., Pedersen, A., & Brand, M. (in press). Cue-induced craving in pathological buying: empirical evidence and clinical implications. Psychosomatic Medicine, 76, 694-700.

Allgemeine Psychologie 1

Abstract

Die Allgemeine Psychologie I bildet für Studierende den Einstieg in die Psychologie. Um dieser Zielgruppe gerecht zu werden, werden die Themen Perzeption, Kognition und Handeln in diesem Lehrbuch kompakt und leicht verständlich vermittelt. Das in allen Kapiteln einheitliche Konzept spiegelt die empirische und naturwissenschaftliche Arbeitsweise in der Allgemeinen Psychologie wider. Phänomene und Theorien werden mit Alltagsbeispielen erläutert, neurobiologische Grundlagen erklärt und empirische Studien vorgestellt.

Schiebener, J., & Brand, M. (2014). Allgemeine Psychologie 1. (M. von Salisch & B. Leplow, Eds.). Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.

Effects of goals on decisions under risk conditions: Goals can help to make better choices, but relatively high goals increase risk-taking

Abstract

Theoretical approaches on goal setting imply that explicit goals may improve decision-making performance by guiding development and application of goal-oriented decision-making strategies and increasing cognitive and behavioural effort. In contrast, relatively high goals may increase risk-taking by inducing risky decision-making strategies. We tested the effects of explicit goals for decision-making under risk using a modified version of the Game of Dice Task. The modification allowed increased influence of strategies and effort by providing control over the number of decision trials. Only participants with low-to-moderate goals made higher percentages of advantageous decisions, whereas relatively high goals were associated with increased risk-taking, leading to highly negative outcomes. The results support the idea that explicit goals can improve decision-making performance, but the height of the goal seems to be a critical variable: appropriate goals can benefit decision-making, but relatively high goals come along with riskier decisions.

Schiebener, J., Wegmann, E., Pawlikowski, M., & Brand, M. (2014). Effects of goals on decisions under risk conditions: Goals can help to make better choices, but relatively high goals increase risk-taking. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 26, 473-485.

Developmental changes in decision making under risk: The role of executive functions and reasoning abilities in 8-19 year old decision makers

Abstract

Previous studies have shown that children and adolescents often tend toward risky decisions despite explicit knowledge about the potential negative consequences. This phenomenon has been suggested to be associated with the immaturity of brain areas involved in cognitive control functions. Particularly, "frontal lobe functions", such as, executive functions and reasoning mature until young adulthood and are thought to be involved in age related changes in decision making under explicit risk conditions. We investigated 112 participants, aged 8 to 19 years, with a frequently used task assessing decisions under risk, the Game of Dice Task (GDT). Additionally, we administered the Modified Card Sorting Test assessing executive functioning (categorization, cognitive flexibility, and strategy maintenance), as well as the Ravens Progressive Matrices assessing reasoning. The results showed that risk taking in the GDT decreased with increasing age and this effect was not moderated by reasoning but by executive functions: Particularly, young persons with weak executive functioning showed very risky decision making. Thus, the individual maturation of executive functions, associated with areas in the prefrontal cortex, seems to be an important factor in young peoples' behavior in risky decision-making situations.

Schiebener, J., Garcia-Arias, M., Garcia-Villamisar, D., Cabanyes-Truffino, J., & Brand, M. (in press). Developmental changes in decision making under risk: The role of executive functions and reasoning abilities in 8-19 year old decision makers. Child Neuropsychology.

Prefrontal control and Internet addiction: A theoretical model and review of neuropsychological and neuroimaging findings.

Abstract

Most people use the Internet as a functional tool to perform their personal goals in everyday-life such as making airline or hotel reservations. However, some individuals suffer from a loss of control over their Internet use resulting in personal distress, symptoms of psychological dependence, and diverse negative consequences. This phenomenon is often referred to as Internet addiction. Only Internet Gaming Disorder has been included in the appendix of the DSM-5, but it has already been argued that Internet addiction could also comprise problematic use of other applications with cybersex, online relations, shopping, and information search being Internet facets at risk for developing an addictive behavior. Neuropsychological investigations have pointed out that certain prefrontal functions in particular executive control functions are related to symptoms of Internet addiction, which is in line with recent theoretical models on the development and maintenance of the addictive use of the Internet. Control processes are particularly reduced when individuals with Internet addiction are confronted with Internet-related cues representing their first choice use. For example, processing Internet-related cues interferes with working memory performance and decision making. Consistent with this, results from functional neuroimaging and other neuropsychological studies demonstrate that cue-reactivity, craving, and decision making are important concepts for understanding Internet addiction. The findings on reductions in executive control are consistent with other behavioral addictions, such as pathological gambling. They also emphasize the classification of the phenomenon as an addiction, because there are also several similarities with findings in substance dependency. The neuropsychological and neuroimaging results have important clinical impact, as one therapy goal should be to enhance control over the Internet use by modifying specific cognitions and Internet use expectancies.

Brand, M., Young, K. S., & Laier, C. (2014). Prefrontal control and Internet addiction: A theoretical model and review of neuropsychological and neuroimaging findings. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 375.

Cybersex addiction in heterosexual female users of Internet pornography can be explained by gratification hypothesis.

Abstract

In the context of Internet addiction, cybersex is considered to be one Internet application at risk for developing an addictive usage behavior. Regarding males, experimental research showed that indicators of sexual arousal and craving to Internet pornographic cues are related to severity of cybersex addiction in Internet pornography users (IPU). Since comparable investigations are missing for females, the aim of this study was to investigate predictors of cybersex addiction in heterosexual women. We examined 51 female IPU and 51 female non-Internet pornography users (NIPU). Using questionnaires, we assessed the severity of cybersex addiction in general, proneness to sexual excitation, general problematic sexual behavior, and psychological symptom severity. Additionally, an experimental paradigm including a subjective arousal rating of 100 pornographic pictures as well as indicators of craving was conducted. Results indicated that IPU rated pornographic pictures as more arousing and reported greater craving due to pornographic picture
presentation compared to NIPU. Moreover, pictures’ sexual arousal rating, craving, sensitivity to sexual excitation, problematic sexual behavior, and psychological symptom severity predicted tendencies towards cybersex addiction in IPU. Partnership, number of sexual contacts, the satisfaction with sexual contacts, and the use of interactive cybersex were not associated to cybersex addiction. These results are in line with those reported for heterosexual males in
previous studies. Findings need to be discussed regarding the reinforcing nature of sexual arousal, learning mechanisms and the role of cue-reactivity and craving in the development of cybersex addiction in IPU.

Laier, C., Pekal, J., & Brand, M. (2014). Cybersex addiction in heterosexual female users of Internet pornography can be explained by gratification hypothesis. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 17, 505-511.

Stress and decision making: neural correlates of the interaction between stress, executive functions, and decision making under risk.

Abstract

Stress as well as additional load on the executive system, produced by a parallel working memory task, impair decision making under risk. However, the combination of stress and a parallel task seems to preserve the decision-making performance (e.g., operationalized by the Game of Dice Task, GDT) from decreasing, probably by a switch from serial to parallel processing. The question remains how the brain manages such demanding decision-making situations. The current study used a 7-tesla MRI system in order to investigate the underlying neural correlates of the interaction of stress (induced by the Trier Social Stress Test), risky decision making (GDT), and a parallel executive task (2-back task) to get a better understanding of those behavioral findings. The results show that on a behavioral level, stressed participants did not show significant differences in task performance. Interestingly, when comparing the stress group with the control group, the stress group showed a greater increase in neural activation in the anterior prefrontal cortex when performing the 2-back task simultaneously with the GDT than when performing each task alone. This brain area is associated with parallel processing. Thus, the results may suggest that in stressful dual-tasking situations, where a decision has to be made when in parallel working memory is demanded, a stronger activation of a brain area associated with parallel processing takes place. The findings are in line with the idea that stress seems to trigger a switch from serial to parallel processing in demanding dual-tasking situations.

Gathmann, B., Schulte, F. P., Maderwald, S., Pawlikowski, M., Starcke, K., Schäfer, L. C., Schöler, T., Wolf O. T. & Brand, M. (2014). Stress and decision making: neural correlates of the interaction between stress, executive functions, and decision making under risk. Experimental Brain Research, 232, 957-973.

Performing a secondary executive task with affective stimuli interferes with decision making under risk conditions.

Abstract

Previous studies demonstrated that executive functions are crucial for advantageous decision making under risk and that therefore decision making is disrupted when working memory capacity is demanded while working on a decision task. While some studies also showed that emotions can affect decision making under risk, it is unclear how affective processing and executive functions predict decision-making performance in interaction. The current experimental study used a between-subjects design to examine if affective pictures (positive and negative pictures compared to neutral pictures), included in a parallel executive task (working memory 2-back task), have an impact on decision making under risk as assessed by the Game of Dice Task (GDT). Moreover, performance GDT plus 2-back task was compared to performance in the GDT without any additional task (GDT solely). The results show that performance in the GDT differed between groups (positive, negative, neutral, and GDT solely).The groups with affective pictures, especially those with positive pictures in the 2-back task, showed more disadvantageous decisions in the GDT than the groups with neutral pictures and the group performing the GDT without any additional task. However, executive functions moderated the effect of the affective pictures. Regardless of affective influence, subjects with good executive functions performed advantageously in the GDT. These findings support the assumption that executive functions and emotional processing interact in predicting decision making under risk.

Gathmann, B., Pawlikowski, M., Schöler, T. & Brand, M. (2014). Performing a secondary executive task with affective stimuli interferes with decision making under risk conditions. Cognitive Processing, 15, 113-126.

Stress and decision making: A few minutes make all the difference.

Abstract

Stress has been shown to impair decision making. However the temporal development of this phenomenon remains poorly understood. We speculated that the rapid stress induced increase in norepinephrine and the delayed increase in cortisol might exert opposing effects on decision making under risk. Therefore, three different experimental groups underwent the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and performed the Game of Dice Task (GDT) at different time points in relation to the stressor, which lasted
approximately 18 min. The first group performed the GDT 5 min after stress onset, the second and third group performed the GDT either 18 or 28 min after TSST onset. Decision-making performance of the control group was measured after a respective resting time. Results confirmed a rapid activation of the sympathetic nervous system and a somewhat slower response of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis. In the GDT an improvement of decision-making performance in the 5 and 18 min stress groups compared
to controls and the 28 min stress group occurred. Descriptively, decision making of the 28 min after stress group was more risky than decision making of the control group. Our findings are in line with the idea that a moderate increase in catecholamines enhances decision-making performance, while elevated cortisol concentrations may negatively affect decision making presumably via rapid nongenomic mechanisms.

Pabst, S., Brand, M. & Wolf, O.T. (2013). Stress and decision making: A few minutes make all the difference. Behavioural Brain Research, 250, 39-45.

Stress effects on framed decisions: there are differences for gains and losses.

Abstract

Recent studies have shown that acute stress can lead to riskier decision making. Yet, the underlying mechanisms of the stress effects on decisions under risk remain poorly understood. To gain a better understanding of decision-making processes and potential strategy application under stress, we investigated decision making in pure gain and loss domains with unequal expected values (EVs) across alternatives. We conducted an experimental study with a 2×2 design (stress vs. no stress and gain domain vs. loss domain). The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) was utilized to induce acute stress. Controls performed the placebo-TSST (p-TSST). To validate the stress response we measured salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase concentrations. We used a modified version of the Game of Dice Task (GDT) to assess decision-making performance in a gain and a loss domain. Results showed that non-stressed participants made less risky decisions in the gain domain compared to those of the loss domain. This behavior is in accordance with previous studies and indicates the stability of the framing effect in even more complex tasks with changing EVs across alternatives. Stress did not alter risk taking behavior in the gain domain. Yet, in the loss domain stressed participants made less risky decisions compared to controls. Additionally, the data support earlier findings of longer reaction times in loss compared to gain domains due to higher cognitive effort for loss-framed decisions. It is discussed that stress may lead to reduced amygdala activation, which has been found to reduce riskier decisions in a loss domain. With respect to earlier results of riskier decisions in tasks that unite both gain and loss domains, it is discussed whether stress leads to a stronger evaluation of high gains and a neglect of losses.

Pabst, S., Brand, M. & Wolf, O.T. (2013). Stress effects on framed decisions: there are differences for gains and losses. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 7, Art. 142, 1-10.

Moral decision-making and theory of mind in patients with idiopathic Parkinson's disease.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

Cognitive impairments in theory of mind (ToM), executive processing, and decision-making are frequent and highly relevant symptoms in patients with Parkinson's disease (PD). These functions have been related to moral decision-making. Their association to moral decision-making in PD, however, has not been studied yet. It was hypothesized that moral decisions in patients with PD differ from those in healthy control participants, and that more egoistic decisions are related to ToM as well as executive dysfunctions in patients with PD.

METHOD:

Nineteen patients with PD and 20 healthy control participants were examined with an everyday moral decision-making task, comprised of 10 low and 10 high emotional forced-choice moral dilemma short stories with egoistic and altruistic options. All participants received an elaborate neuropsychological test battery. Electrodermal skin conductance responses were recorded to examine possible unconscious emotional reactions during moral decision-making.

RESULTS:

The groups performed comparably in total scores of moral decision-making. Although ToM did not differ between groups, it was inversely related to altruistic moral decisions in the healthy control group, but not in patients with PD. Executive functions were not related to moral decision-making. No differences were found for skin conductance responses, yet they differed from zero in both groups.

CONCLUSION:

Our findings indicate that moral decisions do not differ between patients with PD and healthy control participants. However, different underlying processes in both groups can be presumed. While healthy control participants seem to apply ToM to permit egoistic moral decisions in low emotional dilemmas, patients with PD seem to decide independently from ToM. These mechanisms as well as neuropsychological and neurophysiological correlates are discussed.

 

Rosen, J., Brand, M., Polzer, C., Ebersbach, G. & Kalbe, E. (2013). Moral decision-making and theory of mind in patients with idiopathic Parkinson's disease. Neuropsychology, 27, 562-572.

Supporting decisions under risk: Explicit advice differentially affects people according to their working memory performance and executive functioning.

Abstract

Theoretical assumptions suggest that explicit and factual advice can enhance performance during decision-making. However, theory indicates that the degree of positive influence may be moderated by specific cognitive abilities associated with prefrontal cortex circuits, which are involved in decision making. We hypothesized that executive and working memory functioning is especially critical in the generation and application of advantageous decision strategies. To test our hypothesis, we investigated the influence of different types of support on performance in the Game of Dice Task (GDT), a measure of decision-making under objective risk conditions. In a pre-study, we confirmed that explicit advice on advantageous alternatives in the GDT impacted decision-making performance in a positive manner. In the main study, we demonstrate that this effect was moderated by each individual’s level of working memory and executive functioning. Persons with a high ability in these domains did not need advice to make frequent advantageous decisions. In contrast, advice improved the decisions made by participants with below-average working memory- and executive functions. We propose that advice reduces load on functions of the prefrontal cortex that are involved in the decision-making process. Our results emphasize the assumptions of decision-making models, suggesting that external input and neurocognitive functions interactively determine the final level of decision-making performance.

Schiebener, J., Wegmann, E., Pawlikowski, M. & Brand, M. (2013). Supporting decisions under risk: Explicit advice differentially affects people according to their working memory performance and executive functioning. Neuroscience of Decision Making, 1, 9-18.

Pathological Internet use – It is a multidimensional and not a unidimensional construct

Abstract

It is still a topic of debate whether pathological Internet use (PIU) is a distinct entity or whether it should be differentiated between pathological use of specific Internet activities like playing Internet games and spending time on Internet sex sites. The aim of the current study was to contribute to a better understanding of common and differential aspects of PIU in relation to different specific Internet activities. Three groups of individuals were examined which differed with respect to their use of specific Internet activities: one group of 69 subjects used exclusively Internet games (IG) (but not Internet pornography (IP)), 134 subjects used IP (but not IG), and 116 subjects used both IG and IP (i.e., unspecific Internet use). The results indicate that shyness and life satisfaction are significant predictors for a tendency towards pathological use of IG, but not pathological use of IP. Time spent online was a significant predictor for problematic use of both IG and IP. Additionally, no correlation was found between symptoms of pathological use of IG and IP. We conclude that games may be used to compensate social deficits (e.g., shyness) and life satisfaction in real life, whereas IP is primarily used for gratification in terms of achieving stimulation and sexual arousal. These results support the demand for differentiating the various facets of Internet use in future studies instead of considering PIU as a unitary phenomenon.

Pawlikowski, M., Nader, I.W., Burger, C., Biermann, I., Stieger, S. & Brand, M. (ePub). Pathological Internet use – It is a multidimensional and not a unidimensional construct. Addiction Research & Theory.

A versatile task for assessing decision-making abilities: The Truck Dispatcher Framework

Abstract

In neuropsychological decision-making research several different tasks are used to measure decision-making competences in patients and healthy study-participants. Unfortunately, the existing tasks are often inflexible for modification, use different scenarios, and include several gambling cues. Therefore, comparisons between participants’ performances in different tasks are difficult. We developed the Truck Dispatcher Framework (TDF), in which different decision-making tasks can be designed within one unitary, flexible, and real-world oriented story line. To test the story line TDF-analogues of three standard decision-making tasks (Game of Dice Task, Probability-Associated Gambling task, Iowa Gambling Task) were developed. In three studies with brain-healthy participants the behavior in standard decision-making tasks and the TDF-analogues of them were compared. Similar behaviors indicate that the TDF-tasks measure decision making appropriately. Thus, the TDF is recommended for experimental and clinical research because it allows examining decision-making competences in tasks with different demands but taking place within one unitary story line.

Schiebener, J., Schulte, F. P., Hofmann, J., & Brand, M. (2013). A versatile task for assessing decision-making abilities: The Truck Dispatcher Framework. Applied Neuropsychology: Adult, 1-19.

 

Sexual picture processing interferes with decision making under ambiguity

Abstract:

Many people watch sexually arousing material on the Internet in order to receive sexual arousal and gratification. When browsing for sexual stimuli, individuals have to make several decisions, all possibly leading to positive or negative consequences. Decision-making research has shown that decisions under ambiguity are influenced by consequences received following earlier decisions. Sexual arousal might interfere with the decision-making process and should therefore lead to disadvantageous decision-making in the long run. In the current study, 82 heterosexual, male participants watched sexual pictures, rated them with respect to sexual arousal, and were asked to indicate their current level of sexual arousal before and following the sexual picture presentation. Afterwards, subjects performed one of two modified versions of the Iowa Gambling Task in which sexual pictures were displayed on the advantageous and neutral pictures on the disadvantageous card decks or vice versa (n = 41/n = 41). Results demonstrated an increase of sexual arousal following the sexual picture presentation. Decision-making performance was worse when sexual pictures were associated with disadvantageous card decks compared to performance when the sexual pictures were linked to the advantageous decks. Subjective sexual arousal moderated the relationship between task condition and decision-making performance. This study emphasized that sexual arousal interfered with decision-making, which may explain why some individuals experience negative consequences in the context of cybersex use.

Laier, C., Pawlikowski, M., & Brand, M. (2014). Sexual picture processing interferes with decision-making under ambiguity. Archives of sexual behavior, 43, 473-482.

Neuropsychologie der pathologischen Internetnutzung

Abstract

Zielsetzung: Ziel dieses bersichtsartikels ist es, aktuelle Forschungsarbeiten zur Neuropsychologie der pathologischen
Internetnutzung zusammenzufassen. Methodik: Kriteriengeleitete Literaturauswahl. Ergebnisse: Neuropsychologische Studien berichten, dass Personen mit pathologischer Internetnutzung unvorteilhafte Entscheidungen treffen, da sie kurzfristig belohnende Handlungsalternativen bevorzugen und dabei mögliche längerfristige, negative Konsequenzen, weniger beachten. Auch scheint die Verarbeitung von internetbezogenen Reizen mit kognitiven Funktionen, beispielsweise Arbeitsgedächtnisleistungen, zu interferieren. Bildgebungs- und neuropsychologische Befunde veranschaulichen, dass Cue-Reactivity, Craving und Entscheidungsverhalten wichtige Konzepte für das Verständnis des Phänomens der pathologischen Internetnutzung sind. Schlussfolgerungen: Befunde zu neurokognitiven Funktionen und zu Hirnkorrelaten der Verarbeitung internetbezogener Reize bei Personen mit spezifischer pathologischer Internetnutzung (z.B. von Onlinespielen) sind vergleichbar mit denen zu Personen mit Substanzabhängigkeit oder pathologischem Glücksspiel und sprechen für die Klassifikation einer pathologischen Internetnutzung als Verhaltenssucht.

Brand, M., & Laier, C. (2013). Neuropsychologie der pathologischen Internetnutzung. SUCHT-Zeitschrift für Wissenschaft und Praxis/Journal of Addiction Research and Practice, 59, 143-152.

Paradoxical effects of stress and an executive task on decisions under risk

Abstract

In everyday life, decisions are often made under stress and while being occupied with multiple tasks. It has recently been shown that acute stress impairs decision making under risk. Performing a parallel executive task also caused riskier decision making. To investigate the effects of a combination of these two factors on decision making, we conducted a large (N = 126) experimental study with a 2 X 2 design (stress vs. no stress and parallel task vs. no parallel task). Stress was induced using the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) and controls underwent the placebo TSST. Salivary samples were collected to assess cortisol and alpha amylase concentrations as markers of the two stress response systems. Decision making was measured using the Game of Dice Task (GDT). A 2-back task served as parallel executive task. Our results revealed a significant interaction between stress and the parallel executive task. In line with our earlier findings, acute stress and a parallel executive task individually tended to impair decision making under risk, manifested by more high risky than low risky choices. Interestingly, stressed participants in the parallel-task condition (GDT plus 2-back) showed similar decision-making behavior as nonstressed single-task participants. Regression analyses revealed executive functions to moderate stress effects on decisions under risk. Reasons for these paradoxical findings are discussed with respect to stress-evoked cognitive alterations that may benefit decision making under risk, if an executive task is performed simultaneously

Pabst, S., Schoofs, D., Pawlikowski, M., Brand, M., & Wolf, O. T. (2013). Paradoxical effects of stress and an executive task on decisions under risk. Behavioral Neuroscience. ePub.

Retrieval, monitoring and control processes: A 7 Tesla fMRI approach to memory accuracy

Abstract

Memory research has been guided by two powerful metaphors: the storehouse (computer) and the correspondence metaphor. The latter emphasizes the dependability of retrieved mnemonic information and draws upon ideas about the state dependency and reconstructive character of episodic memory. We used a new movie to unveil the neural correlates connected with retrieval, monitoring and control processes, and memory accuracy (MAC), according to the paradigm of Koriat and Goldsmith (1996a, b). During functional magnetic resonance imaging, subjects performed a memory task which required (after an initial learning phase) rating true and false statements (retrieval phase, RP), making confidence judgments in the respective statement (monitoring phase, MP) and deciding for either venturing (volunteering) the respective answer or withholding the response (control phase, CP). Imaging data pointed to common and unique neural correlates. Activations in brain regions related to RP and MAC were observed in the precuneus, middle temporal gyrus and left hippocampus. MP was associated with activation in the left anterior and posterior cingulate cortex along with bilateral medial temporal regions. If an answer was volunteered (as opposed to being withheld) during the CP, temporal and frontal as well as middle and posterior cingulate areas and the precuneus revealed activations. Increased bilateral hippocampal activity was found during withholding compared to volunteering answers. The left caudate activation detected during withholding compared to venturing an answer supports the involvement of the left caudate in inhibiting unwanted responses. Contrary to expectations, we did not evidence prefrontal activations during withholding (as opposed to volunteering) answers). This may reflect our design specifications, but alternative interpretations are put forth.

Risius, U. M., Staniloiu, A., Piefke, M., Maderwald, S., Schulte, F. P. Brand, M. & Markowitsch, H. J. (2013). Retrieval, monitoring and control processes: A 7 Tesla fMRI approach to memory accuracy. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 7, Art. 24, 1-21.

Food labels promote healthy choices by a decision bias in the amygdala

Abstract

Food labeling is the major health policy strategy to counter rising obesity rates. Based on traditional economic theory, such strategies assume that detailed nutritional information will necessarily help individuals make better, healthier choices. However, in contrast to the well-known utility of labels in food marketing, evidence for the efficacy of nutritional labeling is mixed. Psychological and behavioral economic theories suggest that successful marketing strategies activate automatic decision biases and emotions, which involve implicit emotional brain systems. Accordingly, simple, intuitive food labels that engage these neural systems could represent a promising approach for promoting healthier choices. Here we used functional MRI to investigate this possibility. Healthy, mildly hungry subjects performed a food evaluation task and a food choice task. The main experimental manipulation was to pair identical foods with simple labels that emphasized either taste benefits or health-related food properties. We found that such labels biased food evaluations in the amygdala, a core emotional brain system. When labels biased the amygdala's evaluations towards health-related food properties, the strength of this bias predicted behavioral shifts towards healthier choices. At the time of decision-making, amygdala activity encoded key decision variables, potentially reflecting active amygdala participation in food choice. Our findings underscore the potential utility of food labeling in health policy and indicate a principal role for emotional brain systems when labels guide food choices.

Grabenhorst, F., Schulte, F. P., Maderwald, S., & Brand, M. (2013). Food labels promote healthy choices by a decision bias in the amygdala. NeuroImage, 74, 152-163.

Cybersex addiction: Experienced sexual arousal when watching pornography and not real-life sexual contacts makes the difference

Abstract

Background and aims
Cybersex addiction is discussed controversially, while empirical evidence is widely missing. With respect to its mechanisms of development and maintenance Brand et al. (2011) assume that reinforcement due to cybersex should lead to the development of cue-reactivity and craving explaining recurrent cybersex use in the face of growing but neglected negative consequences. To support this hypothesis, two experimental studies were conducted.

Methods
In a cue-reactivity paradigm 100 pornographic cues were presented to participants and indicators of sexual arousal and craving were assessed. The first study aimed at identifying predictors of cybersex addiction in a freely recruiting sample of 171 heterosexual males. The aim of the second study was to verify the findings of the first study by comparing healthy (n=25) and problematic (n=25) cybersex users.

Results
The results show that indicators of sexual arousal and craving to Internet pornographic cues predicted tendencies towards cybersex in the first study. Moreover, it was shown that problematic cybersex users report greater sexual arousal and craving reactions resulting from pornographic cue presentation. In both studies, the number and the quality with real-life sexual contacts were not associated to cybersex addiction.

Discussion
The results support the gratification hypothesis, which assumes reinforcement, learning mechanisms, and craving to be relevant processes in the development and maintenance of cybersex addiction. Poor or unsatisfying sexual reallife contacts cannot sufficiently explain cybersex addiction.

Conclusion
Positive reinforcement in terms of gratification plays a major role in cybersex addiction.

Laier, C., Pawlikowski, M., Pekal, J., Schulte, F. P., & Brand, M. (2013). Cybersex addiction: Experienced sexual arousal when watching pornography and not real-life sexual contacts makes the difference. Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

Physiological and endocrine reactions to psychosocial stress in alcohol use disorders: duration of abstinence matters

Abstract

Background
Recent research findings suggest that heavy alcohol use is associated with alterations of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and autonomic nervous system function, and that early abstinence is associated with blunted stress responsiveness.

Methods
The current study investigated abstinent alcohol dependent participants (n = 31), who had a drinking history of levels about 97 drinks per week (abstinence range: 2 weeks – 24 month), actively drinking problem drinkers (n = 23), who reported drinking levels about 47 drinks per week and who were abstinent for at least 24 hours, and healthy control participants (n = 20). It was investigated how participants responded to a psychosocial stress task. All of them were exposed to a modified Trier Social Stress Test. Salivary cortisol, heart rate, skin conductance levels, and negative affect were assessed as stress indicators.

Results
Abstinent alcohol dependent patients showed stress reactions comparable to healthy control participants, whereas active problem drinkers showed increased heart rate and cortisol stress responses. In the abstinent alcohol dependent group, duration of abstinence was positively related to cortisol stress responses.

Conclusions
Active problem drinkers showed increased responses to psychosocial stress. Results indicate that duration of abstinence is a key factor when analysing and interpreting stress responses in alcohol abuse and dependence.

Starcke, K., Holst, R. J., Brink, W., Veltman, D. J., & Goudriaan, A. E. (2013). Physiological and endocrine reactions to psychosocial stress in alcohol use disorders: duration of abstinence matters. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 37, 1343-1350.

Working memory is differentially affected by stress in men and women

Abstract

Stress has been shown to influence working memory. However, sex differences and the potential impact of stimulus emotionality have not received much attention. In a first experiment the effects of stress on a neutral working memory (WM) paradigm were tested in male and female participants (Experiment 1). Experiment 2 employed the same paradigm but used emotional stimuli. For this purpose, healthy participants were exposed either to a stressful (Trierer Social Stress Test (TSST)) or to a non-stressful control condition. Subsequently, WM performance in an n-back task was assessed. In Experiment 1, single digits were used as stimuli, while in Experiment 2 neutral and negative pictures were additionally employed. Salivary cortisol and Alpha-Amylase (sAA) were measured before and three times after the treatment as a marker of hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis- and sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity. In both experiments, stress caused a substantial cortisol and sAA increase. For WM performance (response time) a stress by sex interaction was apparent. Stress enhanced performance in men, while impairing it in women. In both experiments stress had no effect on response accuracy. No modulating effect of the emotional quality of stimuli on n-back performance was observed (study 2). The results indicate that the effect of acute stress on n-back performance differs between the sexes. In contrast to long-term memory, the influence of stress on WM appears not to be modulated by the emotionality of the employed stimuli if stimuli are potential targets as it is the case in the n-back task

Schoofs, D., Pabst, S., Brand, M. & Wolf, O.T. (2013). Working memory is differentially affected by stress in men and women. Behavioural Brain Research, 241, 144-153.

Validation and psychometric properties of a short version of Young's Internet Addiction Test

Abstract

A key element of research on Internet addiction is a valid and reliable assessment of problems individuals experience in their daily life due to an excessive or pathological use of the Internet. One of the most frequently used questionnaires is Young’s Internet Addiction Test (IAT). However, the factorial structure of the IAT is still discussed controversially. In four studies with different samples we a) addressed the factorial structure of the IAT with exploratory factor analysis and reduced the items to those with sufficient factor loadings and good item characteristics, b) checked the factorial structure using confirmatory factor analysis, and c) analyzed convergent, divergent and incremental validities. We revealed a short version of the IAT, which consists of 12 items and a two-factorial solution with good reliability (study 1). The two factors were named “loss of control/time management” and “craving/social problems”. This two-factorial solution was confirmed by the confirmatory factor analysis (study 2) and we have found good indices for convergent, divergent and incremental validity (studies 3 and 4). In conclusion, the short version of the IAT has good psychometric properties and represents the Internet addiction’s key elements based on the proposed diagnostic criteria.

Pawlikowski, M., Altstötter-Gleich, C., & Brand, M. (2013). Validation and psychometric properties of a short version of Young’s Internet Addiction Test. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1212-1223.

Interactions of age and cognitive functions in predicting decision making under risky conditions over the life span

Abstract

Little is known about how normal healthy aging affects decision-making competence. In this study 538 participants (age 18-80 years) performed the Game of Dice Task (GDT). Subsamples also performed the Iowa Gambling Task, and tasks measuring logical thinking and executive functions. In a moderated regression analysis, the significant interaction between age and executive components indicates that older participants with good executive functioning perform well on the GDT while older participants with reduced executive functions make more risky choices. The same pattern emerges for the interaction of age and logical thinking. Results demonstrate that age and cognitive functions act in concert in predicting the decision-making performance.

 

Cue reactivity towards shopping cues in female participants

Abstract

Background and aims

It is currently under debate whether pathological buying can be considered as a behavioral addiction. Addictions have often been investigated with cue-reactivity paradigms to assess subjective, physiological and neural craving reactions. The current study aims at testing whether cue reactivity towards shopping cues is related to pathological buying tendencies.

Methods

A sample of 66 non-clinical female participants rated shopping related pictures concerning valence, arousal, and subjective craving. In a subgroup of 26 participants, electrodermal reactions towards those pictures were additionally assessed. Furthermore, all participants were screened concerning pathological buying tendencies and baseline craving for shopping.

Results

Results indicate a relationship between the subjective ratings of the shopping cues and pathological buying tendencies, even if baseline craving for shopping was controlled for. Electrodermal reactions were partly related to the subjective ratings of the cues.

Conclusion

Cue reactivity may be a potential correlate of pathological buying tendencies. Thus, pathological buying may be accompanied by craving reactions towards shopping cues. Results support the assumption that pathological buying can be considered as a behavioral addiction. From a methodological point of view, results support the view that the cue-reactivity paradigm is suited for the investigation of craving reactions in pathological buying and future studies should implement this paradigm in clinical samples.

Starcke, K., Schlereth, B., Domaß, D., Schöler, T. & Brand, M. (2012). Cue reactivity towards shopping cues in female participants. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 1-6.

Performing well – Feeling bad? Effects of perfectionism under experimentally induced stress on tension and performance

Abstract

The present study explored the influence of dispositional perfectionism (i.e. perfectionistic concerns and perfectionistic strivings) on tension and performance under low or high experimentally induced stress. Results support the moderating role of perfectionism concerning tension and indicate that stress-related processes underlie the vulnerability of perfectionistic concerns. In addition, buffering effects of perfectionistic strivings were found, supporting the 2 × 2 model of dispositional perfectionism by Gaudreau and Thompson (2010). No evidence was found for the moderating role of perfectionistic strivings concerning performance, but results provide evidence for positive effects of perfectionistic concerns on performance.

Gerstenberg, F., Altstötter-Gleich, C. & Brand, M. (2012). Performing well - feeling bad? Effects of perfectionism under experimentally induced stress on tension and performance. Journal of Research in Personality, 46, 619-622.

Pornographic picture processing interferes with working memory-performance

Abstract

Some individuals report problems during and after Internetsex engagement, such as missing sleep, forgetting appointments, etc., which are associated with negative consequences in individuals' life. One mechanism potentially leading to these kinds of problems is that sexual arousal during Internetsex might interfere with working memory (WM) capacity, resulting in a neglect of relevant environmental information and therefore disadvantageous decision making. In this study, 28 healthy individuals performed four experimental manipulations of a pictorial 4-back working memory task with neutral, negative, positive or pornographic stimuli. Participants also rated 100 pornographic pictures with respect to sexual arousal and indicated masturbation urges previous and following pornographic picture presentation. Results reveal worse WM-performance in the pornographic picture condition of the 4-back task compared with the three remaining picture conditions. Furthermore, hierarchical regression analysis indicates an explanation of variance of the sensitivity in the pornographic picture condition by the subjective rating of the pornographic pictures as well as by a moderation effect of masturbation urges. Results contribute to the view that indicators of sexual arousal due to pornographic picture processing interfere with WM-performance. Findings are discussed with respect to Internetsex addiction since WM interference by addiction-related cues is well known from substance dependencies.

 

Anchor effects in decision making can be reduced by the interaction between goal monitoring and the level of the decision maker’s executive functions

Abstract

Models of decision making postulate that interactions between contextual conditions and characteristics of the decision maker determine decision-making performance. We tested this assumption by using a possible positive contextual influence (goals) and a possible negative contextual influence (anchor) in a risky decision-making task (Game of Dice Task, GDT). In this task, making advantageous choices is well known to be closely related to a specific decision maker variable: the individual level of executive functions. One hundred subjects played the GDT in one of four conditions: with self-set goal for final balance (n = 25), with presentation of an anchor (a fictitious Top 10 list, showing high gains of other participants; n = 25), with anchor and goal definition (n = 25), and with neither anchor nor goal setting (n = 25). Subjects in the conditions with anchor made more risky decisions irrespective of the negative feedback, but this anchor effect was influenced by goal monitoring and moderated by the level of the subjects' executive functions. The findings imply that impacts of situational influences on decision making as they frequently occur in real life depend upon the individual's cognitive abilities. Anchor effects can be overcome by subjects with good cognitive abilities.

Schiebener, J., Wegmann, E., Pawlikowski, M., & Brand, M. (2012). Anchor effects in decision making can be reduced by the interaction between goal monitoring and the level of the decision maker’s executive functions. Cognitive Processing, EPub. doi:10.1007/s10339-012-0522-4

Use of a Rasch model to predict response times to utilitarian moral dilemmas

Abstract

A two-systems model of moral judgment proposed by Joshua Greene holds that deontological moral judgments (those based on simple rules concerning action) are often primary and intuitive, and these intuitive judgments must be overridden by reflection in order to yield utilitarian (consequence-based) responses. For example, one dilemma asks whether it is right to push a man onto a track in order to stop a trolley that is heading for five others. Those who favor pushing, the utilitarian response, usually take longer to respond than those who oppose pushing. Greene’s model assumes an asymmetry between the processes leading to different responses. We consider an alternative model based on the assumption of symmetric conflict between two response tendencies. By this model, moral dilemmas differ in the “difficulty” of giving a utilitarian response and subjects differ in the “ability” (tendency) to give such responses. (We could just as easily define ability in terms of deontological responses, as the model treats the responses symmetrically.) We thus make an analogy between moral dilemmas and tests of cognitive ability, and we apply the Rasch model, developed for the latter, to estimate the ability-difficulty difference for each dilemma for each subject. We apply this approach to five data sets collected for other purposes by three of the co-authors. Response time (RT), including yes and no responses, is longest when difficulty and ability match, because the subject is indifferent between the two responses, which also have the same RT at this point. When we consider yes/no responses, RT is longest when the model predicts that the response is improbable. Subjects with low ability take longer on the “easier” dilemmas, and vice versa.

Baron, J., Gorcay, B., Moore, A. & Starcke, K. (2012). Use of a Rasch model to predict response times to utilitarian moral dilemmas. Synthese, 189 (1S), 107-117.

Stress and decision making: a selective review

Abstract

Many decisions must be made under stress, and many decision situations elicit stress responses themselves. Thus, stress and decision making are intricately connected, not only on the behavioral level, but also on the neural level, i.e., the brain regions that underlie intact decision making are regions that are sensitive to stress-induced changes. The purpose of this review is to summarize the findings from studies that investigated the impact of stress on decision making. The review includes those studies that examined decision making under stress in humans and were published between 1985 and October 2011. The reviewed studies were found using PubMed and PsycInfo searches. The review focuses on studies that have examined the influence of acutely-induced laboratory stress on decision making and that measured both decision-making performance and stress responses. Additionally, some studies that investigated decision making under naturally occurring stress levels and decision-making abilities in patients who suffer from stress-related disorders are described. The results from the studies that were included in the review support the assumption that stress affects decision making. If stress confers an advantage or disadvantage in terms of outcome depends on the specific task or situation. The results also emphasize the role of mediating and moderating variables. The results are discussed with respect to underlying psychological and neural mechanisms, implications for everyday decision making and future research directions.

Starcke, K. & Brand, M. (2012). Stress and decision making: a selective review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 36, 1228-1248.

Anticipatory stress interferes with utilitarian judgment

Abstract

A recent study indicates that acute stress affects moral decision making (Youssef et al., in press). The current study examines whether results can be replicated using a different kind of stressor and a different kind of stress measurement. We induced stress in 25 participants with a cover-story of an anticipated speech. Another group of 25 participants were tested in a control condition. Stress levels and stress responses were assessed with questionnaires and heart rate. All participants performed a moral decision-making task describing moral dilemmas. Dilemmas were either personal or impersonal and each offered a utilitarian and a non-utilitarian option. Results show that acutely stressed participants made fewer utilitarian judgments and needed longer for making a decision compared to control participants. Individual physiological stress response was related to few utilitarian judgments. Results are basically in line with those previously found although different instruments were used.

Starcke, K., Ludwig, A.-C. & Brand, M. (2012). Anticipatory stress interferes with utilitarian judgment. Judgment and decision making, 7, 61-68.

Executive functions, categorization of probabilities and learning from feedback: what does really matter for decision-making under explicit risk conditions?

Abstract

In two experiments with healthy subjects we used the Game of Dice Task (GDT), the Probability-Associated Gambling (PAG) task, the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), executive-function and logical thinking tasks to shed light on the underlying processes of decision making under risk. Results indicate that handling probabilities, as in the PAG task, is an important ingredient of GDT performance. Executive functions and logical thinking also play major roles in deciding in the GDT. Implicit feedback-learning, as measured by the IGT, has little impact. Results suggest that good probability-handling may compensate for the effects of weak executive functions in decisions under risk.

Schiebener, J., Zamarian, L., Delazer, M., & Brand, M. (2011). Executive functions, categorization of probabilities, and learning from feedback: What does really matter for decision making under explicit risk conditions? Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 33, 1025-1039.

Decision-making under risk conditions is susceptible to interference by a secondary executive task.

Abstract

Recent research suggests two ways of making decisions: an intuitive and an analytical one. The current study examines whether a secondary executive task interferes with advantageous decision-making in the Game of Dice Task (GDT), a decision-making task with explicit and stable rules that taps executive functioning. One group of participants performed the original GDT solely, two groups performed either the GDT and a 1-back or a 2-back working memory task as a secondary task simultaneously. Results show that the group which performed the GDT and the secondary task with high executive load (2-back) decided less advantageously than the group which did not perform a secondary executive task. These findings give further evidence for the view that decision-making under risky conditions taps into the rational-analytical system which acts in a serial and not parallel way as performance on the GDT is disturbed by a parallel task that also requires executive resources.

Starcke, K., Pawlikowski, M., Altstötter-Gleich, C., Wolf, O.T. & Brand, M. (2011). Decision-making under risk conditions is susceptible to interference by a secondary executive task. Cognitive Processing, 12, 177-182.

Excessive Internet gaming and decision making: Do excessive World of Warcraft-players have problems in decision making under risky conditions?

Abstract

The dysfunctional behavior of excessive Internet gamers, such as preferring the immediate reward (to play World of Warcraft) despite the negative long-term consequences may be comparable with the dysfunctional behavior in substance abusers or individuals with behavioral addictions, e.g. pathological gambling. In these disorders, general decision-making deficits have been demonstrated. Hence, the aim of the present work was to examine decision-making competences of excessive World of Warcraft players. Nineteen excessive Internet gamers (EIG) and a control group (CG) consisting of 19 non-gamers were compared with respect to decision-making abilities. The Game of Dice Task (GDT) was applied to measure decision-making under risky conditions. Furthermore psychological-psychiatric symptoms were assessed in both groups. The EIG showed a reduced decision-making ability in the GDT. Furthermore the EIG group showed a higher psychologicalpsychiatric symptomatology in contrast to the CG. The results indicate that the reduced decision-making ability of EIG is comparable with patients with other forms of behavioral addiction (e.g. pathological gambling), impulse control disorders or substance abusers. Thus, these results suggest that excessive Internet gaming may be based on a myopia for the future, meaning that EIG prefer to play World of Warcraft despite the negative long-term consequences in social or work domains of life. 

Pawlikowski, M. & Brand, M. (2011). Excessive Internet gaming and decision making: Do excessive World of Warcraft-players have problems in decision making under risky conditions? Psychiatry Research, 188, 428-433.

Watching pornographic pictures on the Internet: role of sexual arousal ratings and psychological-psychiatric symptoms for using Internet sex sites excessively.

Abstract

Excessive or addictive Internet use can be linked to different online activities, such as Internet gaming or cybersex. The usage of Internet pornography sites is one important facet of online sexual activity. The aim of the present work was to examine potential predictors of a tendency towards cybersex addiction in terms of subjective complaints in everyday life due to online sexual activities. We focused on the subjective evaluation of Internet pornographic material with respect to sexual arousal and emotional valence as well as on psychological symptoms as potential predictors. We examined 89 heterosexual, male participants with an experimental task assessing subjective sexual arousal and emotional valence of Internet pornographic pictures. The Internet Addiction Test (IAT) and a modified version of the IAT for online sexual activities (IATsex) as well as several further questionnaires measuring psychological symptoms and facets of personality were also administered to the participants. Results indicate that self-reported problems in daily life linked to online sexual activities were predicted by subjective sexual arousal ratings of the pornographic material, global severity of psychological symptoms, and the number of sex applications used when being on Internet sex sites in daily life, while the time spent on Internet sex sites (minutes per day) did not significantly contribute to explanation of variance in IATsex score. Personality facets were not significantly correlated with the IATsex score. The study demonstrates the important role of subjective arousal and psychological symptoms as potential correlates of development or maintenance of excessive online sexual activity.

Brand, M., Laier, C., Pawlikowski, M., Schächtle, U., Schöler, T., & Altstötter-Gleich, C. (2011). Watching pornographic pictures on the Internet: role of sexual arousal ratings and psychological-psychiatric symptoms for using Internet sex sites excessively. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 17, 371-377.