A critical postulate of our model is that lower-order processes are flexibly shaped and tuned by “higher-order” processes to help guide goal pursuit. To examine the motivational flexibility of top down influences upon the evaluative system, we explore how chronic differences in preferences for valenced information (e.g., positivity vs. negativity biases, personality, clinical diagnoses) as well as situational variables (e.g., evaluative goals and social identity) direct “lower-order” attentional and evaluative processes. A new line of research in this domain concerns how people maintain and select goals, and how these processes shape perception, evaluation, and behaviour. Within this line of research, we are particularly interested in how people understand and calculate the affordances of the environment to select the most optimal goals at any given moment. This new line of research combines new theory and methods from neuroeconomics, reinforcement learning, computational modeling, and social psychology.
Cunningham, W. A. & Brosch, T. (2012). Motivational salience: Amygdala tuning from traits, needs, values, and goals. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21, 54–59.
Fujita, K., Trope, Y., Cunningham, W. A., & Liberman, N. (2014). What is control? A conceptual analysis. In J. Sherman, B. Gawronski, & Y. Trope (Eds.) Dual process theories of the social mind, 50–68. New York: Guilford.
Cunningham, W. A., Van Bavel, J. J., & Johnsen, I. R. (2008). Affective flexibility: Evaluative processing goals shape amygdala activity. Psychological Science, 19, 152–160.
Cunningham, W. A., Raye, C. L., & Johnson, M. K. (2005). Neural correlates of evaluation associated with promotion and prevention regulatory focus. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 5, 202–211.