What does cognitive control feel like? Effective and ineffective cognitive control is associated with divergent phenomenology

Blair Saunders (Lead / Corresponding author), Marina Milyavskaya, Michael Inzlicht

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Cognitive control is accompanied by observable negative affect. But how is this negative affect experienced subjectively, and are these feelings related to variation in cognitive control? To address these questions, 42 participants performed a punished inhibitory control task while periodically reporting their subjective experience. We found that within-subject variation in subjective experience predicted control implementation, but not neural monitoring (i.e., the error-related negativity, ERN). Specifically, anxiety and frustration predicted increased and decreased response caution, respectively, while hopelessness accompanied reduced inhibitory control, and subjective effort coincided with the increased ability to inhibit prepotent responses. Clarifying the nature of these phenomenological results, the effects of frustration, effort, and hopelessness-but not anxiety-were statistically independent from the punishment manipulation. Conversely, while the ERN was increased by punishment, the lack of association between this component and phenomenology suggests that early monitoring signals might precede the development of control-related subjective experience. Our results indicate that the types of feelings experienced during cognitively demanding tasks are related to different aspects of controlled performance, critically suggesting that the relationship between emotion and cognitive control extends beyond the dimension of valence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1205-1217
Number of pages13
Issue number9
Early online date4 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2015


  • Adolescent
  • Brain
  • Cognition
  • Electroencephalography
  • Emotions
  • Evoked potentials
  • Executive function
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition (Psychology)
  • Male
  • Reaction time
  • Young adult
  • Journal article
  • Research support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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