Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

, Volume 81, Issue 1, pp 173–187 | Cite as

Self-control and its influence on global/local processing: An investigation of the role of frontal alpha asymmetry and dispositional approach tendencies

  • Brent Pitchford
  • Karen M. Arnell


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 approach-motivated tendencies, as indexed by individuals’ behavioral activation system (BAS) scores. Approach motivation and attentional breadth have previously been associated with frontal alpha asymmetry (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 behavior in high BAS individuals, and this could be due to a shift towards left-hemisphere-frontal processing. This was the first study to examine both frontal asymmetry 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 more narrowed attentional breadth after completing the manipulation relative to before, but only after exercising self-control. However, breadth of attention and changes in attentional breadth were unrelated to frontal asymmetry, suggesting that the influence of self-control on individuals’ attentional breadth was not due to changes in frontal activation patterns.


Attention Electrophysiology Cognitive Attentional control 



The work was supported by a Canadian Graduate Scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to the first author, and by a grant from NSERC to the second author. This work was presented in October 2018 at the annual meeting of the Vision Sciences Society meeting in St. Pete Beach, United States of America..


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBrock UniversitySt. CatharinesCanada

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