I am fortunate to be working in a lab with people who have a diverse range of interests. This has given me the opportunity to collaborate on a variety of projects investigating a number of different electrophysiological phenomena. Here is a brief overview of my current and previous research.
Cognitive function, hypertension and the cardiac cycle
Research has shown that people with hypertension are impaired on some types of cognitive task - particularly those requiring attention and memory (e.g. Waldstein et al, 1993). More recently, another line of research has demonstrated that peripheral nerve function is compromised in hypertensive patients (e.g. Edwards et al, 2008). In an effort to combine these themes, we are investigating cognitive processing and central (rather than peripheral) electrophysiological differences between hypertensives and normotensive controls.
Another well-established, if somewhat neglected, psychophysiological phenomenon is that phase of the cardiac cycle affects basic cognitive processing (e.g. Sandman et al 1977). An additional feature of this study, therefore, investigates how behavioural performance and event-related potentials change over the cardiac cycle.
Emotion and anti-social behaviour in sport
Bradley and Lang have developed a widely-adopted picture-viewing paradigm for assessing electrophysiological reactions when viewing emotional pictures (e.g. Schupp et al, 2000). A startle blink procedure is frequently used in combination with this to study the effect of viewing emotional pictures on reflexive responses (e.g. Cuthbert et al, 1998). In this project, we are using these techniques to investigate whether reported levels of anti-social behaviour (particularly while playing sport) are associated with different behavioural or electrophysiological responses to the images or startle probe.
We are also conducting a related study using the Taylor Aggression Paradigm (Taylor, 1967) to investigate how sports players respond to provocation and whether their responses can be affected by priming their sense of empathy.
Performance under pressure
Masters (1992) suggested that pressure causes experts to revert back to more novice-like behaviour. In order to test this claim, we are studying the performance of expert and novice golfers in a simple putting task. In addition to the kinematics of the golf swing, psychophysiological and electrophysiological measures are also being taken to investigate the differences between experts and novices and how their performance changes under pressure.
Action Monitoring and Error Processing
Most of my earlier research focussed on understanding the psychological (and electrophysiological) processes that occur as people monitor their behaviour and the environment around them. When people make a mistake a distinctive component can be seen in their EEG - known as the Error-Related Negativity (ERN; e.g. Gehring et al, 1993). The ERN usually occurs within 100ms of the error being committed and is characterised by a large negative deflection. Source localisation studies suggest the ERN reflects activity in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (e.g. Deheane et al, 1994).
Since the discovery of the ERN, several other components, including the Feedback Negativity and the conflict N2, have also been proposed to be related to the action monitoring system. The psychological functions underlying these components is still under considerable debate, reflected by the number of theories of ERN function - including an Error Detection theory, a Conflict Monitoring theory, a Reinforcement-Learning Theory and an Evaluative Processing theory (e.g. Yeung et al, 2004; Holroyd and Coles, 2002).
My research has investigated the effects of numerous factors on the ERN and FN in an attempt to arbitrate between the different theories. These factors have included response conflict, learning, stimulus processing requirements, evoked emotion and dual tasking.
I have also recently become interested in more applied research such as usability, human factors and neuromarketing. The techniques and theories developed by cognitive psychologists to measure people's behaviour in the laboratory also have the potential to help us understand why people behave the way they do in real world situations.
Cuthbert, B. N., Schupp, H. T., Bradley, M., McManis, M., & Lang, P. J. (1998). Probing affective pictures: attended startle and tone probes. Psychophysiology, 35(3), 334-337.
Dehaene, S., Posner, M. I., & Tucker, D. M. (1994). Localization of a neural system for error detection and compensation. Psychological Science, 5, 303-305.
Edwards, L., Ring, C., McIntyre, D., Winer, J. B., & Martin, U. (2008). Cutaneous sensibility and peripheral nerve function in patients with unmedicated essential hypertension. Psychophysiology, 45(1), 141-147.
Gehring, W. J., Goss, B., Coles, M. G. H., Meyer, D. E., & Donchin, E. (1993). A neural system for error detection and compensation. Psychological Science, 4, 385-390.
Holroyd, C. B, & Coles, M. G. H. (2002). The neural basis of human error processing: Reinforcement learning, dopamine, and the error-related negativity. Psychological Review, 109, 679-709.
Masters, R.S.W. (1992). Knowledge, (k)nerves and know-how: The role of explicit versus implicit knowledge in the breakdown of a complex motor skill under pressure. The British Journal of Psychology, 83, 343-358.
Sandman, C. A., McCanne, T. R., Kaiser, D. N., & Diamond, B. (1977). Heart rate and cardiac phase influences on visual perception. Journal of comparative and physiological psychology, 91(1), 189-202.
Schupp, H. T., Cuthbert, B. N., Bradley, M. M., Cacioppo, J. T., Ito, T., Lang, P. J., et al. (2000). Affective picture processing: the late positive potential is modulated by motivational relevance. Psychophysiology, 37(2), 257-261.
Taylor, S. P. (1967) Aggressive behaviour and physiological arousal as a function of provocation and the tendency to inhibit aggression. Journal of Personality 35, 297-310.
Waldstein, S. R., Manuck, S. B., Ryan, C. M., & Muldoon, M. F. (1991). Neuropsychological Correlates of Hypertension: Review and Methodologic Considerations. Psychological Bulletin, 110(3), 451-468.
Yeung, N., Botvinick, M. M., & Cohen, J. D. (2004). The Neural Basis of Error Detection: Conflict Monitoring and the Error-Related Negativity. Psychological Review, 111(4), 931-959.