Self-Control and its Influence on Global/Local Processing: An Investigation of the Role of Frontal Alpha Asymmetry and Dispositional Approach Tendencies
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People often inhibit or override their dominant response tendencies in order to complete tasks successfully. Exerting such self-control has been shown to influence attentional breadth differently depending on an individual’s approach-motivated tendencies, as indexed by individuals’ Behavioural Activation System (BAS) scores. Approach motivation and attentional breadth have previously been associated with frontal alpha asymmetry (FAA; i.e., lateralized cortical activity in the frontal regions) where greater left-frontal activation is associated with greater approach motivation and reduced attentional breadth. The process model of self-control posits that exercising self-control leads to a subsequent increase in approach behaviour in high BAS individuals, and this could be due to a shift towards left-hemisphere-frontal processing. However, no one has yet measured BAS, FAA, and attentional breadth together under conditions of high and low self-control. This was the first study to examine both FAA and attentional breadth before and after exercising self-control in low and high BAS individuals. Greater BAS, and greater difficulty exercising self-control, both positively related to narrowed attentional breadth, but only after exercising self-control. Breadth of attention and BAS were unrelated to FAA at rest, before versus after self-control, suggesting that the influence of self-control on individuals’ attentional breadth was not associated with FAA. Overall, results from this study suggest that exercising self-control influences attentional breadth differently depending on individuals’ BAS scores, but not because of individual differences or changes in FAA.