Effortful Control, Explicit Processing, and the Regulation of Human Evolved Predispositions
Kevin B MacDonald
This article analyzes the effortful control of automatic processing related to social and emotional behavior, including control over evolved modules designed to solve problems of survival and reproduction that were recurrent over evolutionary time. The inputs to effortful control mechanisms include a wide range of nonrecurrent information—information resulting not from evolutionary regularities but from explicit appraisals of costs and benefits. Effortful control mechanisms are associated with the ventro-medial prefrontal cortex and the ventral anterior cingulated cortex. These mechanisms are largely separate from mechanisms of cognitive control (termed executive function) and working memory, and they enable effortful control of behavior in the service of long range goals. Individual differences in effortful control are associated with measures of conscientiousness in the Five Factor Model of personality. Research in the areas of aggression, ethnocentrism, sexuality, reward seeking, and emotion regulation is reviewed indicating effortful control of automatic, implicit processing based on explicit appraisals of the context. Evidence is reviewed indicating that evolutionary pressure for cooperation may be a critical adaptive function accounting for the evolution of explicit processing.