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Updating the mind: The mechanisms behind behavioural change

Final Report Summary - UTM (Updating the mind: The mechanisms behind behavioural change)

Nowadays, psychologists attribute an individual’s adaptive behaviour to an executive control system that overrides or alters impulsive or inappropriate actions, allowing a person to fulfil long-term goals. Yet many executive control theories still fail to fully explain how the mind controls or updates behaviour. To address this issue, I have studied executive control using behavioural manipulations, computational modelling, and various neuroscience techniques (incl. neuroimaging & brain stimulation). My work provides a more precise account of executive control of behaviour. Importantly, I have demonstrated that executive control emerges from an interactive network with no clear boundaries between ‘top-down’ control processes and 'lower-level' automatic or impulsive processes. For example, I have shown that emotion and motivational processes have a strong influence on both the origin and the control of actions. Furthermore, I have shown that learning, which is usually associated with habitual and impulsive behaviour, should be placed at the heart of executive control and behaviour change as well. Combined, these studies have shaped the executive control field. They also have implications for clinical sciences and for facilitating behaviour change in the wider population. Control disorders (e.g. ADHD, addiction,...) and behaviour control issues such as overconsumption of food & alcohol have been linked to executive control. By providing detailed theoretical accounts, my work has opened avenues for the development of novel treatments & behavioural change interventions. For example, meta-analyses show that a novel intervention, which is based on my empirical & theoretical work, can lead to weight loss in overweight adults.