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Psychologist Cat Norris on the Good and Bad of Ambivalence

Cat Norris Faculty Lecture

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Ambivalence can often create uneasy feelings in an individual who is pulled in opposite directions simultaneously. Is it possible that ambivalence is so unpleasant that it can actually affect cognitive processing, either by depleting resources or diverting attention? On the other hand, can feelings of ambivalence lead to positive changes in behavior and therefore be beneficial in the long run?
Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Cat Norris explored these questions and more in her recent recent faculty lecture entitled "The Good and Bad of Ambivalence: How Mixed Feelings Can Promote Change and Distract Attention, and What We Can Do About It." Norris specifically discusses ambivalence as it relates to food and perceptions of healthy and unhealthy items because the need for sustenance is often balanced with social pressures to maintain or achieve an ideal body image.

Audio Transcript

Jane Gillham: Alright, we'll get started. Welcome. Thank you all for coming. I'm Jane Gillham, I'm the department chair for psychology, and it's my great pleasure to introduce professor Cat Norris. Cat is going to talk with us in a moment about some of her research, and I wanted to, for those ... probably a lot of you already know Cat really well, so for some of you it's just going to be reminding you of some of the wonderful things Cat does. For others maybe, telling you a little bit more about Cat. Cat is an assistant professor of psychology, she's one of our core faculty members in the neuroscience program and she actually heads the psychology side of the neuroscience program.
As, you're already starting to tell, I think Cat wears a lot of different hats. One of her hats this year and maybe, last a bit, is the construction hat. She helps us ... she serves as a liaison for the psychology department for the BEP project as well. I'm just in awe of what she does there to help us move into really great space.

Cat completed her undergraduate work and her PHD at the University of Chicago. She did complete her post baccalaureate fellowship at the University of Wisconsin Madison. She was on faculty at Dartmouth college before we swept her away. And, for the past five years, since September 2013 ... I think, is that right?

Cat Norris: Yeah.

Jane: Cat has been here in our psychology department, and we've been really thrilled to have her. When I was looking through dates and things, I was thinking, 2013 that's actually really recent, and it feels like Cat has been here, to me anyway, a lot longer. I think you'll get a sense of some of that, just because of all she's done. Briefly, I'm going to tell you a little about Cat's scholarship, we're going to dive in deep to some of her scholarship, in a moment.

Cat's scholarship focuses on experiences of emotion, and she's really interested in how people respond to emotional experiences, events, and emotional information. Especially interested in complex emotions. Those emotions, for example, that involve both positive and negative experiences, are incorporating both positive and negative emotional information. She's done a lot of research on the negativity bias, how negative information often has a stronger impact than positive information, but not always and she's done some work on that not always, as well. She's done a lot of work on ambivalence, which is feeling mixed emotions, and that's what you're going to hear about today.

She's also very interested in the social context of emotions, a lot of our emotional reactions play most [inaudible 00:02:54] in social interactions. So, she's interested in how, experiences like loneliness and social rejection, and also, differences in how we respond to in group members, like friends versus other people. She also explores individual differences in these emotional experiences and including differences that might affect risk for depression, anxiety, other mental health problems, and physical health problems, as well.

Very recently she started to explore interventions that might help reduce those risks. So, it's really a wide, wide range of research. I'm just trying to give you a snapshot, but I think one of the things that's most exciting to me about Cat's work, and I think you'll get a really good sense of this in her talk, is that she combines and integrates ideas and approaches from many different areas of psychology. I often think, Cat could probably, in our department, teach everything we do because, she sort of brings it all together in her work.

She explores many facets of emotional experience, including subjective experience, cognition's, the thoughts that we have, behavior, physiological responses, including brain activity, what's going on in the brain, but also other kinds of physiological responses as well. And, to do this work, she uses and integrates a really wide variety of tools; survey work, experimental tasks, brain imaging, including MRI, ERP, other physiological measures, including a bunch that I probably can't even pronounce. Really, truly, impressive.

There's a really remarkable volume and range of her work. She's got numerous published articles, her works been supported by a number of grants over the years. It's earned Cat a number of awards, including the association for psychological science rising star award, that Cat won in 2012.

In our department, Cat teaches courses and seminars related to social and affective neuroscience. She teaches a class on stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. She teaches ... she's one of the faculty that teaches our research methods class and she runs a very busy lab. She mentors many, many students on research, and I did a very quick count ... in the last five years she's had 15 thesis students, 14 students in her lab over the summer, and those numbers really don't do justice to Cat's mentorship because, many of those students work with Cat for multiple summers and multiple years. She has many, many more students, probably too many for me to count in her research practicum courses and her research methods courses.

Many of these students travel with Cat to present at professional conferences, and several have co-authored papers. There was a news article on our website about a recent paper that Cat published with Dan Creem on the effects of meditation and improving cognition. I don't know how she does it all, I am exhausted just listing that off, and really impressed, and I'm very excited to introduce Cat. She's gonna talk today about some of her recent work on the good and bad of ambivalence, please join me in welcoming, Cat Norris.

Cat: Hi everyone, thank you so much for coming, I really appreciate it, it's been a long delayed talk. I understand it's also the night before Yom Kippur, so I appreciate those of you who made it out for this, and totally understand if you need to sneak out, I get that as well.

I'm going to talk to you today about some of my work on ambivalence, which is simply mixed feelings of positivity and negativity, feeling good and bad at the same time. In particular, I'm going to focus on the good and bad of ambivalence. I'm going to focus on the consequences of ambivalence for things like, cognitive functioning and how we might make healthy decisions in our lives, or unhealthy decisions in our lives. In particular, I'm going to talk a little bit about how ambivalence might be able to promote change and how it might distract our attention and also, some interventions that we started exploring to try to effect some of these things.

I want to start on kind of a sad note here, I want to start with a dedication. Two weeks before I was supposed to give this talk in March, my graduate advisor passed away unexpectedly. Since many of these ideas were motivated by work that I did with John, and on the theory that we developed and worked on together, I wanted to dedicate this talk today to John Cacioppo.

So, John contributed a lot to many different fields, but the theory I'm going to talk to you about today is, the contribution that has the strongest effects on my own research. John did a lot of work on evaluation, simply on the idea of how he decides whether something is good or bad for us. That evaluation is really important for things like attitudes and emotions because, our attitudes and emotions all depend on how we feel about something, on whether we feel good or bad about it.

Now most people in attitudes and emotion research, would simply show you a picture of an attitude object and then, would ask you to make a judgment about that object, using a scale that looks something like this. So, one end is extremely negative, the other end is extremely positive with neutral falling somewhere in the middle. This is the typical bipolar valence scale, and it captures a lot of what people have assumed to be the basic process that underlies evaluation. We decide whether something is good or bad for us and then we decide whether to approach or avoid it. Ultimately, that's why evaluation is really important, is that it motivates our behavior.

Now, John solved this, he was familiar with the old attitudes research, and he said, it might be a little bit more complicated than this. This doesn't capture the full breath of human experience because, while there may be some attitude objects that are really easy to rate on this scale, there are others that maybe aren't. We could think about attitude objects that are more complex, both in a political realm, things like capital punishment, or in a personal realm, how do you feel about exercise? Okay? Or, even on a personal whim, right now, after this talk, do I go and get McDonald’s french fries. Okay? So, each of these stimulants here are a little bit more complicated, arguably, for at least some of us. That, that bipolar scale isn't going to capture our full emotional response.

Which, John suggested is that our emotional responses might, at least initial processing, be captured better by independent negativity and positivity. In other words, when I'm looking at these fries, I can feel not at all negative, up to negative. And, separately, I can feel not at all positive, up to positive.

If we think about positivity and negativity being separable at early stages of processing, that allows for a lot more flexibility in our responses to stimuli in the world. In fact, this entire gray area in the center, can actually capture that middle dimension. If I truly don't feel good or bad about those french fries, then I'm neutral. I fall at kind of the bottom of this gray are, there's no emotion whatsoever. But, if I feel really good about McDonalds french fries, but I know how bad they are for me at the same time, that puts me up here. This is ambivalence, ambivalent, both valences, feeling both good and bad about something at the same time.

This simple change in how we think about emotional objects has had a huge impact on the field. Now, we have been arguing with emotion researchers for 20 years now, about whether people can feel ambivalent or not. And, I'm gonna tell you, they can, you can, I'm sure. I'm gonna focus today on some of the downstream consequences of ambivalence. Because, one of the big things this model actually predicts is that ambivalence doesn't provide any behavioral motivation. It doesn't guide you to either approach or avoid those french fries. Instead, I'm left in this conflictual state, that might be highly arousing, and might be really unpleasant. Maybe I end up being paralyzed, I can't decide which way I want to move.

So, ambivalence, arguably, can result in lots of conflict, it can result in a lack of behavioral guidance, that can be unpleasant for individuals. What I'm arguing here is that, that can actually impact our cognitive functioning. That if it's distracting our attention, to actually be ambivalent towards something, maybe we can't do as well on some of their subsequent tasks.

The first set of studies I'm gonna talk about today, I'm gonna argue what the out said that, ambivalence is a conflicted and arousing state, it's unpleasant and or uncomfortable. Again, because of that conflict, it may actually interfere with cognitive processing, either by depleting resources or distracting attention. Ultimately, in this first step, I'm going to look at whether ambivalence impacts cognitive processing, and in particular whether it impairs cognitive processing.

Alright, so the first few studies I'm gonna present today, all take the same form. I'm just gonna take a couple minutes allaying the first one out. What we did in this study, we brought people into the laboratory and an easy way of eliciting emotions in the lab is to have people watch film clips. Film clips are really evocative, we can do it in about 10 or 15 minutes, we can control them on a lot of different levels. We chose film clips from the movie, Life is Beautiful. How many of you have seen Life is Beautiful? It's an Italian language film with English subtitles. We would call it a tragic comedy, in which a father attempts to distract his young son from the horrors of a concentration camp, by kind of playing games, in this concentration camp.

Okay? So, we selected 10 to 15 minute clips from this movie to create three different emotional states. A happy state, a sad state, and a mixed state. The happy state is simply, parts of the movie that are about the couple getting together and having their first child, they're very joyous. The sad state focuses more on, their time in the concentration camp, the horrors that went on there, and the ultimate fathers demise. The mixed combines both of those things, including a lot of humor about the son and his father interacting in the camp. Okay?

Our subjects were randomly assigned to watch one of those clips, 30 to each of the different clips. Afterwards we simply asked them to perform an anagrams task. Which is simply, unscrambling words. This is a sample of some of the stimuli, and they got 20 words on this list, anyone tell me what the first one is? [inaudible 00:13:23]. You're all good, excellent. What about the second one? It's an animal. Elephant, good. What about the third? We could be all night. It's unsolvable.

We do this occasionally in psychology studies, 10 of them were unsolvable, and the reason for this is we wanted to look at persistence on the task. We wanted to see how long people would continue to work on the task, up to 30 minutes. We did stop them at 30 minutes, and say, alright, you're done at this point. This allowed us to look at two different measures here. Persistence, how long they actually spent on the task and also, their performance, how many did they solve correctly. Now, our prediction here is simply that, ambivalence is going to impair performance on that task. When they watched the mixed movie clip they should actually solve fewer anagrams.

What we wanna look at first is time spent on the task, this is persistence. What we see, is in all three of the clips, this is happy, mixed, and sad, there's no difference. Everyone persisted for about the same amount of time, all of those three different groups.

When we look at performance here, people who watched the happy clip performed rather well, which is good, a lot of times the happiness can actually improve performance on cognitive tasks. Those who watched the sad clip, actually performed just as well as the happy. Those that were on the mixed clip actually performed worse than the sad clip. This supports our hypothesis that, participants who watched a mixed clip, who felt ambivalent after watching this clip of Life is Beautiful, performed worse than those who watched the sad clip, but persisted for the same amount of time. They're still sticking to it, they're just not doing as well on the task.

This is initial support. We really wanted to narrow this down and try and understand, if maybe we could nail what exactly cognitive processes is actually going on here. We wanted to look more at an attentional measure and decided to run a second study in order to do that.

The other thing in this study, is that the critical comparison here is really between the mixed clip and the negative clip. The positive doesn't matter because, if we think about ambivalence as a mix between the negative and positive, you're never gonna perform better than you would if you're watching the negative clip. What we're predicting is you're gonna perform even worse following the mixed clip. So, the mixed and the negative clips are actually the most important comparisons. We just ran people in those two conditions and then afterwards we had them perform the counting Stroop task. This is like the color Stroop task you've seen before, but a little bit easier to do on a computer.

People simply see a word written a number of times on the screen, and their job is to tell me how many times the word appears. So, the answer here is ...

Audience: Three.

Cat: Good. And here?

Audience: Three.

Cat: Excellent. You guys get the idea. It's harder to do this task when we present you number words, because you're gonna read that word four and be inclined to respond with a four instead. Our dependent variable here is interference scores, number block minus the neutral block, a number trials minus the neutral trials. This actually tells us how much you've been distracted by those number words that have been presented.

Same idea here, we're simply gonna look at interference, and we see that people who watched the ambivalent film clips, showed greater interference on a subsequent Stroop task. What's really interesting about this study, is at the end we also asked them, how mixed do you feel? This was after they had completed the Stroop task, we said, how ambivalent do you feel right now? We found that that correlated with their interference score. Those people who said, I feel really mixed right now, actually also reported, or also showed greater interference on the task.

Alright, in our third study, we had talked to some subjects after the debriefing for the second study, and we're trying to figure out mechanism is going on here. A lot of our subjects kept telling us, well, you know I really wanted to perform well on a Stroop task, but I couldn't, I kept thinking about that little boy in the concentration camp, I really felt distracted.

So, we started thinking, okay, what if we actually gave people the opportunity to report on their emotions, after the movie. You see the movie, you feel something, you tell us how you feel. Now, if your cognitive resources are depleted, that's not gonna have any impact on your performance on the task because, your resources are depleted, you have to wait until either time passes or until they get repaired in some way. If you're distracted, maybe this focuses your attention just enough that it might actually help your performance. All we simply did here is, everyone watched the mixed clip and half of our subjects were asked to report on their emotions after they saw the mixed clip.

What we're expecting here is those people who actually reported their emotions, would show improved performance on this Stroop task. Again, this is interference scores, in the mixed condition, they look identical to study two, in the mixed condition with report, they actually showed lower interference scores, after they reported their emotions. I think this is really important because we're not asking people to resolve their ambivalence, we're just looking, we're asking them how you feel. And, being able to state that, I feel mixed right now, I feel both negative and positive, actually allowed their performance to improve.

Now, just to see how well we did, by asking them to report their emotions, we can compare their results in this study with study two, and they're identical. So, when they were allowed to report their emotions, their performance improved the same level as it was when they had just watched a sad movie clip, in study two. What we see so far here, is that ambivalence is actually affecting cognitive performance but, that reporting emotions helps that. We're moving to a study that I conducted, I'm sorry, you can't really see this, where the student last year, this is one of my thesis students [inaudible 00:18:46] where we brought people into the laboratory and they watched mixed film clips and reported on their emotions.

In this case, we really wanted to look at different possible attentional mechanisms and particularly in executive attention. Even this Stroop task is a little bit broad, in terms of the mechanism that it taps, and by using a different task we thought we could get better at it. In this case, we gave the subjects a flanker task, and your job on this task is simply to say, what direction is the center arrow pointing. In this case, it's pointing to the ... yeah ... and in this one ... yes, but in this case the flanking arrows are conflicting and so it's more difficult, you're distracted from actually answering the same. So, in both cases, the answer is left, but people are slower and worse at performing on the conflicting trials.

In this study, we also collected ERPs, we collected event related brain potentials in this study. ERP's are derived from the EEG, which is electrical signal collected on the scalp of our participants. It's generated by the brain and the idea here is that, if an electrical event is tied with psychological event, in this case, the onset of that flanker stimulus. Then that should tell us something about the process that is going on underneath.

This is a really broad overview of ERP's, but I hope you understand what I'm saying here. Our measures here are proportion correct on the flanker trials, response times, and ERP's.

Alright, so this is first looking at the proportion correct on the flanker trials. And, what we see is that again, when you watch an ambivalent film clip and then get to report your emotions, you actually show improved performance on this flanker task. What's interesting in this study is we also looked at their response times on this task and we saw, they also slowed in that condition. They were feeling ambivalent, they reported on their emotions, ultimately they slowed down a little bit.

We're not actually sure what to make of this, I'm happy to come back and talk about it in a little. We kinda expected that they would take about as much time, but there are other things to suggest that they're not just less aroused, or less committed to the task, again they're performing better and our brainwaves are gonna help us give a little bit of information here as well. Ultimately, what we did find, that those that watched the mixed clip and reported their feelings afterwards showed both better and slower performance on the flanker task.

Now we're gonna move to the ERP's, in order to try to understand a little bit more of what's going on here. I'm just gonna set this up for you a little bit. On the X axis here is time, so we're simply looking at electrical activity over time. The Y axis is the amplitude of this signal, and here I believe we're looking at FZ, which is a frontal site. There are two dotted lines, the first one just indicates the end of the base line period, I'm not gonna talk about this period very much, but the zero point here, the second dotted line, is when the flanker stimulus comes up. We're really interested in the ERP's and response to the flanker stimulus.

This is the ERP for individuals who did not report their emotions when they were responding to congruent trials. The component we're particularly interested in here, is this P200. It's a positive going component, so it's more positive, it's going up in this case. And, it's occurring at about 200 milliseconds after the flanker stimulus occurs. We know a couple things about the P200, it is an intentional component, it's relatively early on in processing. It's larger during deepening sleep, which actually suggests that a higher amplitude P200 is associated with decreased attentional allocation. It's also larger in individuals with ASD, with Autism Spectrum Disorder. And, it's also though to reflect efficient gating.

So, larger P200's actually allow for better allocation of resources to a secondary task. I'm sorry, reductions in the P200, are thought to have reflect efficient gating. Meaning, effected allocation of resources to a second task. Smaller P200 amplitudes here, actually represent better attention. This dotted line is the no report inconcurrent trials, but the critical comparison here are the ERP's to those who reported their emotions. I should mention, again, this is all to individuals who saw the ambivalent film clip.

What you see here is both of those orange lines are smaller than those blue lines, for this P200. This suggests that individuals who actually reported their emotions after watching the ambivalent film clip, showed more efficient attention on the flanker task as well. Collapsing across trial type, this is the pattern that we see, is a decrease in the P200 amplitude for people who reported their emotions. Again, what this is really telling us is that early on in attention, people who have reported their emotions have freed up a better allocation of attentional resources. Ultimately, that leads to better performance on this task, on the flanker task. I will just mention too, we've looked at later components and have seen very few differences. This is kinda suggesting that that report intervention is occurring relatively early on in the stream of processing. That it's impacting processes within a couple hundred milliseconds.

Alright, so summarizing these four studies, that was four studies. Experiencing mixed feelings does negatively impact performance on subsequent tasks. It decreases performance on an anagrams task, but not persistence on the task, everyone persisted just as long in study one. And, it also has increased interference on the counting Stroop task. We're showing some nice replication across methods here too. We also have found that reporting ones mixed feelings restored performance on the counting Stroop, improved performance in the flanker task, but it also slowed individuals down for some reason.

I mentioned that we don't find this to be a particular problem, even though it wasn't unexpected, and one of the things I didn't mention, is that the P200 latencies didn't differ. It wasn't as if the brain was responding more slowly in that case either, really people just slowed down a little bit after they had reported their emotions. Ultimately, what we've shown here, is that ambivalence, feeling mixed, feeling both good and bad at the same time, can have some detrimental effects on cognitive functioning that follows. Maybe there are ways of actually alleviating that, possibly by allowing people to report their emotions. Again remember, we're not asking them to resolve their emotions, they just simply have to report on them.

We think this is particularly important if you turn to the domain of health behaviors because, if you're ever thinking about changing a health behavior, for me, that would be not eating chocolate on a daily basis, right? That would probably be good for me. You have to actually hold positive and negative cognition's together in mind, at the same time, towards that chocolate. You have to feel good about it, and also realize, it's not nice for my waist line, okay? Same thing for quitting anything, for changing behaviors, for engaging in a new exercise regime, even for things like addiction, is that ultimately, if you're addicted to cigarettes you have to realize they taste good, you've got that nicotine fix, but they're killing you. You have to be able to hold those cognitions in mind at the same time.

We're really moving in a health direction, because in addition to ambivalence being maybe good for changing behavior, if it's actually effecting how we think about things and our performance on subsequent tasks, it could be bad for decision making. We wanna try to understand both of those things by moving into a health related field. What we decided to do was to turn to food and responses to food in particular.

This study was done by my honors, he was a student last year [inaudible 00:26:06]. We started off with these ideas that ambivalence is relevant for changing health behaviors, because it may act as a catalyst for change. There's a lot of work in the health literature that suggests you have to feel ambivalent before you actually make a change in your behavior. It also might distract us from making healthy decisions, we wanna try to understand both of those. Food in particular may be an ambivalence stimulus, because we have this need for sustenance, which we balance with social pressures to maintain or achieve an ideal body image.

We went into this study thinking that food would be an ambivalent stimulus, and then we found no one had actually looked at that before. This summer we ran a study using Mechanical Turk on Amazon. What we showed our participants, was about 209 participants, we showed them a series of 150 pictures of unhealthy food items, healthy food items, and non food items. We just asked them to rate all of those different pictures, so that we could look at people actually feel ambivalent about food.

What I have to mention here, is that these different sets of food pictures are matched on every dimension you could imagine. This took my RA a very long time to do. What does that mean? On the valence bipolar scale I showed you at the very beginning, we know how people feel about these food objects. These are all mildly to moderately positive, every single group, they're matched, even the non food objects. They're matched on red, green, and blue values on complexity, familiarity, I wanna say 12 different dimensions. Okay?

We had to do that because, if there's any difference, we have to be able to say, it's due to the content of the image, and not due to any other kind of confounds. What we're looking at here is ambivalence on the Y axis and ... oh I forgot to mention what's on the X axis here. We also measured dietary restraint in these subjects. This is using a self report measure, that's used pretty strongly in the literature still. We ask you questions about how often do you diet? How broad does your weight fluctuate on a weekly basis? There are about 12 of these different items. People who score high on this restraint measure, are constant dieters, they're people who are very aware of what they're in-taking in terms of food. That can put them at risk for eating disorders, for ED's. People who are low in restraint, don't worry all that much about what they're eating.

Alright? Okay. What we see here is that people who are low restraint eaters, actually report feeling ambivalent towards unhealthy food items. Okay? That makes sense, these unhealthy food items again, are delicious, but probably not all that good for us, and so they actually do report feeling those mixed feelings. More so then they do, for either healthy food, or for non food objects, there's no different there whatsoever.

People that are high in restraint show a very similar pattern with one change. So, again, high restrained also feel ambivalent about unhealthy food but, believe it or not, this is a significant difference. They also feel ambivalent about healthy food.

This is a lot of consequences, I might leave it up to the clinical psychologists, to work with some of these data. What it's really suggesting is that one aspect that may characterize restraint, is that you feel aroused and ambivalent towards even food that can be really good for you. You can imagine that creates a really difficult relationship with food and sustenance.

So, we did this study first just to demonstrate that, guess what, food is ambivalent stimulus, all of these data are now out there, so that other researchers can use them and access them in their studies as well. But then Emma and I could do the study that we had intended on doing. In this case, we were interested in attention, but we're interested in how food might distract you from performing a secondary task. We're also using a flanker task here. The trials look something like this, you see affixation cross, and then you see a picture of a food item or a non food item, then you see the flanker task or the flanker stimulus, you simply respond to the direction of the center arrow. This is a neutral trial, I'm not talking about those today in the interest of time, but they also saw congruent and incongruent trials, and I'm not gonna talk about the go no go aspect of this task either.

The general idea is that if we show you a picture of a food item, does that facilitate your response times, does it distract you from being able to do this task? How does it effect your performance on the subsequent task? And again, we collected ERP's in order to look at some of the neuromechanisms that might be underlying these attentional mechanisms.

Alright, so first of all we're looking at proportion correct on the flanker task. What we see is that everyone does better on the congruent trials then the incongruent trials. This is for the non food items, and here I am coaxing across healthy and unhealthy food, we didn't see a lot of differences in how people responded regardless of the healthiness of the food behind the flanker. This is their responses to a congruent and incongruent trials when food was presented. I have the stats here because, the stats don't look all that significant, but actually people were less accurate overall when they looked at unhealthy food, or sorry, food pictures then when they looked at non food pictures. That was particularly driven by responses to the incongruent trials.

Okay. So, that main effect of food versus non food is significant in this data set. It just means, you're not performing as well if food is present on the task. Now we're looking at response times and we see that of course, people are faster on the congruent then the incongruent, this is for non food and this is for food. Again, these are tiny differences but the statistics come out accurate and reliable here. There is a main effect of pictures, so again, you're faster to respond when a food picture is present then a non food.

It's a weird pattern of results, but what we think is going on here is, when you see a food picture your attention is grabbed, you're faster to respond on that trial. But, it's also distracting you when the flanker task is up. So, you're faster to respond but you're less accurate in responding when a food picture is present. I'm gonna turn to the ERP's now and I should mention, first of all, this is a slightly different way of presenting ERP's. I'm presenting difference scores here, difference waveforms.

In this case, what we're looking at is, the ERP to incongruent trials versus the ERP to congruent trials, and I'll graph the non food and the food pictures separately. This is what our difference waveform looks like, it's a little bit messier but you can also see that the scale is different, it's a little bit truncated, because again we're looking at differences between the incongruent and congruent trials here. We are particularly interested in this late positive ... I'm going way too fast here, this last positive component. It is a component that is maximal about 500 milliseconds. The LPP's associated with a lot of different things but an index is selective attention in tasks like the flanker task.

This is essentially getting at how good at you, or how good are you, at allocating attention towards important stimuli. In this case on the flanker task, a big difference between incongruent and congruent trials, is probably effective. You know you need to allocate more resources to actually respond to those incongruent trials. Okay? That's what you see here, is when you're actually looking at non food pictures, non food images, you're showing a greater discrimination between those incongruent and congruent trials.

And, that's just shown here, is that the only difference here in the LPP amplitudes is between the non food and ... the non food congruent trials and the non food incongruent trials. In other words, when you're looking at food pictures, the brain isn't allocating resources differently depending on the difficulty of the trials. Whether it's a difficult trial in incongruent, or an easy one congruent, the brain is responding similarly.

One of the thing we did at the end of this study, is I mentioned that we collected dietary restraint in the first study on food we did here as well. Questions like this, do you give too much time and thought to food, what is your maximal weight gain in week? We wanted to look at some kind of real life outcome behavior and so we tricked our subjects a little bit. At the end of this study, we simply told them, hey, there's some candy left over from a different study over there, if you'd like to, you can take as much as you like before you leave, and then we left the room.

We measured the weight of the candy before and after ... yes, I know, before and after we told them they could take as much as they wanted. What we're predicting here is that those people that are high in dietary restraint, who have been exposed to all these food images, are going to feel depleted, or they're going to feel distracted and maybe they're going to make an unhealthy decision. They're gonna be more likely to take more of that candy, and that's exactly the pattern that we see. I'm gonna admit right off the bat, it's a small effect, but, it's something I think these kinds of behavioral results are always a bit small, and it's something we definitely like to follow-up with. The fact that we can actually see that people higher in dietary restraint are taking more food, whether it's a reward, whether it's because they're not thinking about it, whether it's because they think they deserve it, it's still an interesting outcome measure for this study.

Ultimately, participants are less accurate and faster to respond when food was present, suggesting that food focused attention but it also distracted them from performing well on the task. Especially on those incongruent trials, those difficult trials. Food pictures also decreased that difference in the LPP amplitudes, suggesting less effective attentional allocation and those with higher eating restraints scores, took more candy after completing the task, suggesting that distraction led to possibly an unhealthy decision.

I so far, have shown you a couple studies about ambivalence, we're gonna move into one last study, where I'm gonna talk about yet another intervention that we're starting to introduce, in order to try to understand how people might be able to effect their feelings of ambivalence. Again, thinking of ambivalence as this conflicting negative state that might actually have negative impacts for our behavior.

What we did here, we turned to the literature on emotion regulation in order to understand this. This is a study that was done by Emily Woo, who graduated a year ago. Previous studies in emotion regulation have shown that emotional states can be regulated when individuals are instructed to do so. More of these studies, more often then not, what people are interested in doing is, I can make you feel bad in the laboratory, I can show you a whole bunch of horrible pictures, but for each of them, I can tell you, I want you to re-evaluate this, I want you to think about it in different terms. So, that gory car accident is actually just a movie scene, make yourself feel better about it. This of course, has clinical implications, it's been used in that domain as well.

We wanted to see whether we could get our subjects in the laboratory to use these same kinds of methods to regulate their ambivalence. What's nice about ambivalence is that we can also have them focus on one or the other aspect, so we're not just looking at down regulating the negative, we can look at them focusing on either the positive or the negative aspects of ambivalence.

So, the task we used in this study is a little bit different, it's a gambling task. We show our participants two cards face down on the computer screen, and we tell them on this trial you could win 15 dollars, or you could win five dollars. Okay? They know on every single trial what the possible stakes are, before they actually choose a card, they also know, at this point whether they're gonna win or lose money. So, they either always win or always lose, and we never bet the win and the lose against each other.

At this point, I ask you to please choose a card, you think about it, and you choose the card on the right. I tell you, you just won five dollars instead of 15, how do you feel? You feel ambivalent. See a couple of you mouthing it. Yeah, so see that people say they feel good and bad when they win five dollars instead of 15. This is what we call a disappointing win. It's a win, you feel good, but it's disappointing because it could've been more. The reverse, losing five dollars instead of losing 15 is a relieving loss, you lost, but it could've been worse. Okay.

Both situations result in ambivalence. The interesting thing about this study is they did three different groups of trials and the first we gave them no instruction, just asked them to respond normally. In the second, we told them to focus on the positive, focus on how good you could possibly feel about this, try to ignore the fact that you could've won more money, and then instead focus on the fact that you just won some money. Or, we told them to focus on the negatives, so that way we could look at both mechanisms, and this was counter balanced across subjects.

First of all we wanna see whether people actually could decrease their ambivalence by focusing on the positive and negative. They do reliably report ambivalence for both relieving losses and disappointing wins, and there's no difference there. And, negative focus decreased ambivalence for relieving losses, but didn't have a ton of an effect on disappointing wins. And, a positive focus decreased ambivalence for disappointing wins, but didn't have a strong impact on relieving losses. I think I have arrows in here just to demonstrate. The other thing to notice here is wins are a little bit easier to push around then losses are.

Now, Jane mentioned I studied something else called the negativity bias. The idea that negative information has a stronger impact on behavior. This is an example arguably of a negativity bias, our responses to losses are just always gonna be a little bit more ingrained, then our responses to wins.

In addition, we did also collect ERP's in this study too, and this is really critical because, there's a huge demand characteristic in this study. We're telling people, focus on the negative, and so, maybe people are just telling us, yeah, I feel less negative, now that I'm thinking about it. Or, I feel more negative now that I'm thinking about it. I really wanted to incorporate ERP's as a way of actually being able to demonstrate people are making them, or actually feeling less ambivalent.

These are ERP's to disappointing wins and again, we're looking at the late positive potential. I mentioned earlier it's sensitive to a couple of different things. In the emotion regulation literature the LPP, the P300, is larger when your emotionally aroused. When you regulate that emotion it decreases. What we're looking here, is a decrease from this level, when people focus on the positive or the negative. Again, this is the LPP, and this is the no regulation condition for wins.

What we see is when they focus on the negative, you get a decrease in the LPP, when you focus on the positive, you get a decrease in the LPP. So, in both conditions they're effective in decreasing their emotional responses. These are same data except for relieving losses, again, I mentioned earlier, remember losses might be harder to push around. This is what the waveform looks like and the LPP for no regulation. This is for the negative focus and this is for the positive focus. So, again, the positive focus isn't as effective as changing our ambivalence towards relieving losses, those losses are a little bit harder to push around, but we're still seeing some regulation here.

So, in some when given explicit instructions, individuals can reduce their ambivalence by focusing on one or the other aspect of emotions. We've followed this up with again a large scale, Turks study in order to look both at up and down regulating a focus on both wins and losses. We're still working through some of those datasets, it's a pretty complicated dataset.

There are some of these symmetry, some of this negativity bias seems to emerge as well. Regulation does seem to work best when it's matched with the overall outcome. The negative focus worked best for losses, positive focus worked best for wins. Responses to losses are harder to push around and so there's a negativity bias in the ethicacy of this regulation. And, the negative focus overall seemed a little bit more effective then a positive focus. So, what does this all mean?

Well, it really means that, first of all a bad behavior like smoking might be harder to regulate then a good behavior like exercise. And again, there's a lot we need to do in order to get there, but arguably there could be a symmetries in how we're regulating different behaviors. In both of those cases maybe wanting to start an exercise regime, you might need to focus on the bad consequences of not doing that, in order to move forward with it. So, you focus on increased blood pressure, on increased weight gain, on the negative health consequences. Maybe that's more effective at getting you into the gym. Ultimately, I think we'd like to do more with the health aspects here. I know I'm getting pretty close to out of time here, but I did want to just mention here is that, we are starting to see that ambivalence does have some negative consequences for cognitive functioning and for decision making.

We'd like to focus that up. I have mentioned earlier, even that the title of the talk was about the good and bad of ambivalence. I haven't talked a lot about the good here. I've talked about it theoretically, but not so much in the laboratory. I'd be really interested in trying to propose positive aspects to some kind of negative behavior and see if we can get people to feel ambivalent and if that changes their behavior in the laboratory. I think that's ultimately gonna be something really important for moving forward in the health literature.

In the last minute I just wanna kinda mention additional studies we've conducted that have actually looked at ambivalence. Couple of people, [Letty 00:42:04] was in the room earlier, is Letty still here? Hi Letty. So, Letty ran this study for me before she went abroad in the Spring. The first study we actually can demonstrate that people feel ambivalent about nothing at all. This is kinda a cool idea. Our subjects saw very complex gambling or lotteries in this case, where you could win money, you could lose money, or you could simply get the status quo, which is nothing happening.

What's really interesting is that that zero dollar outcome has no impact on you whatsoever. Any theory of emotion would say, it should have no impact on your behavior and yet, in the context of possibly winning or losing, people report feeling ambivalence and that increases as a function of the comparison. So, when it's 25 dollars, then you actually feel even more ambivalence. We've followed that up and are working on a study now to look at individual differences, which is something else I'm interested in.

But, how do optimists perform on this task? Are they able to find the silver lining and able to just focus on the fact that they could've actually lost money. Second task, Fran [Ruggers 00:43:05] was another honors thesis student from last year, and she did an incredible study to look at how friendship impacts our responses to emotional, very complex emotional responses to gambles in the laboratory. And found that, if you choose a gamble outcome when you're playing with a friend, and the friend chooses a different gamble outcome, when again they're playing with you, you're actually kinda easy on them. It's really interesting that we kinda anticipated you would be like, hey man, you just screwed me over in this game. What we're finding instead is that friends are actually pretty understanding of the fact that you might each have individual needs within particular context. It's when you're playing with a stranger that you're a little bit more judgmental about decisions that can hurt you.

And finally, a study I'm working on with Shiloh who's also in the ... oh, Shiloh just left, Shiloh is one of my students this year. We've been conducting an online, a broad scale survey online to look at motivational ambivalence towards tragic events. The general idea here is, when something bad happens, when a school shooting happens, when a suicide ... a celebrity suicide or celebrity death happens, as humans, I think it's natural for us to feel kind of a push and a pull towards those events. We're horrified by what just occurred, and also interested and intrigued and seek out additional information. We have that sense of curiosity as well. It's a really bizarre pattern when you think about it from an emotional perspective. We're trying to understand this. I'm thinking about this more in terms of motivational ambivalence. We certainly don't feel happy that these events happen, but the fact that we're both moving towards them and approaching more information and seeking out stuff, that that's really informative. We've been doing that online, and she's looking to follow it up using some physiological measures in our laboratory to look at how arousal in particular is impacted in cases of motivational ambivalence.

And, that's it. I wanna end by thanking you and thanking my lab members. This is a picture of the lab from in March and then these are some of my newer lab members and also, thanking Amanda Ellen who helped so much with earpiece studies, my funding and of course my sabbatical support as well. And, thank all of you for being here.

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