The seminal theory of motivational conflicts distinguishes between approach-approach (AP-AP) conflicts, in which a decision is made between desirable alternatives, and avoidance-avoidance (AV-AV) conflicts, in which a decision is made between undesirable alternatives. The behavioral differences between AP-AP and AV-AV conflicts are well documented: abundant research showed that AV-AV conflicts are more difficult to resolve than AP-AP ones. However, there is little to no research looking into the neural underpinnings of the differences between the two conflict types. Here, we show that midfrontal theta, an established neural marker of conflict, distinguished between the two conflict types such that midfrontal theta power was higher in AV-AV conflicts than in AP-AP conflicts. We further demonstrate that higher midfrontal theta power was associated with shorter decision times on a single-trial basis, indicating that midfrontal theta played a role in promoting successful controlled behavior. Taken together, our results show that AP-AP and AV-AV conflicts are distinguishable on the neural level. The implications of these results go beyond motivational conflicts, as they establish midfrontal theta as a measure of the continuous degree of conflict in subjective decisions.
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© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press.
- cognitive control
- midfrontal theta
- motivational conflicts