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Title: The genetics of affective cognition : electrophysiological evidence for individual differences in affective picture processing, attention and memory
Author: Simpson, Johanna
ISNI:       0000 0004 6061 3212
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2016
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Affect and cognition have traditionally been considered mutually exclusive domains and their study has evolved into two separate research fields. In recent years, however, there is increasing evidence of affective modulations of cognitive processes and interest in the study of affective cognition has grown. This thesis presents analyses of data collected in four mixed-design experiments between 2009 and 2011, which were designed to investigate affective memory and its electrophysiological correlates, individual differences in said affective memory and electrophysiological correlates, the time-course of affective memory and attentional disengagement from affective stimuli respectively. The first aim of the research presented here was to further understanding of how affective content influences picture processing and memory. Event-related potentials (ERPs) provide a valuable tool for the investigation of modulations of cognitive processes, as their excellent temporal resolution allows for the dissociation between different processes contributing to behavioural outcomes. Several important results for the study of affective cognition are reported: The late positive potential (LPP) was shown to be modulated differentially by affective content when compared to a behavioural attentional disengagement task. While the behavioural measure of attention replicated findings from participants’ self-report of arousal, LPP enhancement did not. This novel finding demonstrates that the affective modulation of the LPP cannot be used as an electrophysiological marker of slowed attentional disengagement as is common in the literature. In the domain of recognition memory, affective modulation of performance was shown to be time-sensitive, with effects developing faster for negative than for positive picture content. Affective pictures were associated with a less conservative response bias than neutral pictures but only negative pictures elicited better discrimination performance, driven by an increased in the rate of “remembered” as compared to merely familiar pictures. This was reflected in an increase of the ERP old/new effect for negative pictures in the 500 to 800ms time window, the purported correlate of recollection. The late right-frontal old/new effect between 800 and 1500 ms post stimulus onset was shown to be attenuated by affective content, supporting the interpretation of the late right-frontal effect as a correlate of relevance detection over a retrieval success interpretation. In combination, the findings add weight to the conclusion that affective content enhances memory through selective memory sparing for affective stimuli. Novel evidence for gender differences in affective cognition was found. Comparisons between female and male participants revealed that the affective modulation of the late right-frontal effect differs between the genders, underlining the importance of assessing and understanding gender differences as part of the study of affective cognition. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene val66met single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), a small genetic change that affects the functioning of BDNF, a protein that plays an important role in neuron growth, differentiation and survival, is shown here to also affect the interaction of affect and cognition. BDNF val66met genotype modulated the early “familiarity” old/new effect selectively in response to positive pictures. The present study clearly demonstrates the value of the ERP technique in the investigation of individual differences in affective and cognitive processing and the need to take such individual differences into account as part of the endeavour to fully understand the mechanisms of affective processing, cognition and affective cognition. A better understanding of the role of gender and genetic differences in the affective modulation of affective processing and memory will have important practical implications in fields where affect and cognition interact.
Supervisor: Donaldson, David I. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: ERP ; event-related potentials ; affective memory ; gender ; BDNF ; brain-derived neurotrophic factor ; val66met ; attention ; Affective neuroscience ; Electrophysiology ; Psychophysiology ; Cognition ; Memory ; Emotion ; Visual cortex--Physiology