Although meditation and hypnosis appear to be similar, both in skills demanded (e.g., imaginative involvement) and in their use as therapies, this chapter argues that the two are essentially different. Whereas mindfulness meditation aims to develop accurate meta-awareness, the hypnotic experience results from a lack of awareness of intentions; hypnosis is effectively a form of self-deception. The claim is supported by reviewing evidence that (a) meditators are not very hypnotizable; (b) highly hypnotizable people become aware of their intentions especially late while meditators have awareness
especially early; and (c) meditators show particularly strong intentional binding but highly hypnotizable people do not. We suggest that one path to high hypnotizability is hypofrontality.
Mertens, G., Kuhn, M., Raes, A. K., Kalisch, R., De Houwer, J., & Lonsdorf, T. B. (In press). Fear expression and the return of fear following threat instruction with or without direct contingency experience. Cognition and Emotion.
Prior research showed that mere instructions about the contingency between a Conditioned Stimulus (CS) and an Unconditioned Stimulus (US) can generate fear reactions to the CS. Little is known, however, about the extent to which actual CS-US contingency experience adds anything beyond the effect of contingency instructions. Our results extend previous studies on this topic in that it included fear potentiated startle as an additional dependent variable and examined return of fear following reinstatement. We observed that CS-US pairings can enhance fear reactions beyond the effect of contingency instructions. Moreover, for all measures of fear, instructions elicited immediate fear reactions that could not be completely overridden by subsequent situational safety information. Finally, return of fear following reinstatement for instructed CS+s was unaffected by actual experience. In sum, our results demonstrate the power of contingency instructions and reveal the additional impact of actual experience of CS-US pairings.
Van Dessel, P., De Houwer, J., & Gast, A. (2016). Approach-avoidance training effects are moderated by awareness of stimulus-action contingencies. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42, 81-93.
Prior research suggests that repeatedly approaching or avoiding a stimulus changes the liking of
that stimulus. In two experiments, we investigated the relationship between, on the one hand,
effects of approach-avoidance (AA) training on implicit and explicit evaluations of novel faces
and, on the other hand, contingency awareness as indexed by participants’ memory for the
relation between stimulus and action. We observed stronger effects for faces that were classified
as contingency aware and found no evidence that AA training caused changes in stimulus
evaluations in the absence of contingency awareness. These findings challenge the standard view
that AA training effects are (exclusively) the product of implicit learning processes, such as the
automatic formation of associations in memory.
Van Dessel, P. , De Houwer, J., Roets, A., & Gast, A. (2016). Failures to change stimulus evaluations by means of subliminal approach and avoidance training. Journal of Social and Personality Psychology, 110, e1-e15.
Previous research suggests that the repeated performance of approach and avoidance (AA) actions in response to a stimulus causes changes in stimulus evaluations. Kawakami, Phills, Steele, and Dovidio (2007) and Jones, Vilensky, Vasey, and Fazio (2013) provided evidence that these AA training effects occur even when stimuli are presented only subliminally. We also examined whether reliable AA training effects can be observed with subliminal stimulus presentations but added more sensitive checks of perceptual stimulus discriminability. Three experiments, including a direct replication of the study by Kawakami et al. (2007), failed to provide any evidence for effects of subliminal AA training on implicit or explicit evaluations. Bayesian analyses indicated that our data provide robust evidence that subliminal AA training does not cause changes in evaluations. In contrast, we observed changes in evaluations when participants were provided with (either correct or incorrect) information about the stimulus-action contingencies in the subliminal AA training task and when participants performed a supraliminal AA training task that allowed participants to detect these contingencies. These findings support the idea that contingency awareness is necessary for the occurrence of AA training effects.
Rigoni, D., Pourtois, G., & Brass, M. (2014). 'Why should I care?' Challenging free will attenuates neural reaction to errors. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10, 262-268.
Whether human beings have free will or not has been a philosophical question for centuries. The debate about free will has recently entered the public arena through mass media and newspaper articles commenting on scientific findings that leave little to no room for free will. Previous research has shown that encouraging such a deterministic perspective influences behavior, namely by promoting cursory and antisocial behavior. Here we propose that such behavioral changes may, at least partly, stem from a more basic neurocognitive process related to response monitoring, namely a reduced error detection mechanism. Our results show that the Error-Related Negativity, a neural marker of error detection, was reduced in individuals led to disbelieve in free will. This finding shows that reducing the belief in free will has a specific impact on error detection mechanisms. More generally, it suggests that abstract beliefs about intentional control can influence basic and automatic processes related to action control.
Bundt, C., Bardi, L., Abrahamse, E. L., Brass, M., & Notebaert, W. (2015). It wasn’t me! Motor activation from irrelevant spatial information in the absence of a response. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9, (539).
Embodied cognition postulates that perceptual and motor processes serve higher-order cognitive faculties like language. A major challenge for embodied cognition concerns the grounding of abstract concepts. Here we zoom in on abstract spatial concepts and ask the question to what extent the sensorimotor system is involved in processing these. Most of the empirical support in favor of an embodied perspective on (abstract) spatial information has derived from so-called compatibility effects in which a task-irrelevant feature either facilitates (for compatible trials) or hinders (in incompatible trials) responding to the task-relevant feature. This type of effect has been interpreted in terms of (task-irrelevant) feature-induced response activation. The problem with such approach is that incompatible features generate an array of task-relevant and -irrelevant activations [e.g., in primary motor cortex (M1)], and lateral hemispheric interactions render it difficult to assign credit to the task-irrelevant feature per se in driving these activations. Here, we aim to obtain a cleaner indication of response activation on the basis of abstract spatial information. We employed transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to probe response activation of effectors in response to semantic, task-irrelevant stimuli (i.e., the words left and right) that did not require an overt response. Results revealed larger motor evoked potentials (MEPs) for the right (left) index finger when the word right (left) was presented. Our findings provide support for the grounding of abstract spatial concepts in the sensorimotor system.
Bardi, L., Bundt, C., Notebaert, W. & Brass, M. (2015). Eliminating mirror responses via instructions. Cortex, 70, 128-136.
The observation of an action leads to the activation of the corresponding motor plan in the observer. This phenomenon of motor resonance has an important role in social interaction, promoting imitation, learning and action understanding. However, mirror responses not always have a positive impact on our behavior. An automatic tendency to imitate others can introduce interference in action execution and non-imitative or opposite responses have an advantage in some contexts. Previous studies suggest that mirror tendencies can be suppressed after extensive practice or in complementary joint action situations revealing that mirror responses are more flexible than previously thought. The aim of the present study was to gain insight into the mechanisms that allow response flexibility of motor mirroring. Here we show that the mere instruction of a counter-imitative mapping changes mirror responses as indexed by motor evoked potentials (MEPs) enhancement induced by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Importantly, mirror activation was measured while participants were passively watching finger movements, without having the opportunity to execute the task. This result suggests that the implementation of task instructions activates stimulus-response association that can overwrite the mirror representations. Our outcome reveals one of the crucial mechanisms that might allow flexible adjustments of mirror responses in different contexts. The implications of this outcome are discussed.