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Addiction, impulsivity, and decision making

   Between 2010 and 2013, I have been the principal investigator of a funded project on the neuropsychological mechanisms involved in pathological gambling and cocaine abuse. The antecedents of such a research line date back to 2006, as an initial collaboration with Dr. Antonio Verdejo-García, who is currently doing research and lecturing in the School of Psychological Sciences at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. This research project has been carried out in collaboration with the Emotion, Learning and Decision Research Group, the "Proyecto Hombre" Society for drug abuse rehabilitation, and the "Asociación Granadina de Jugadores de Azar en Rehabilización" (AGRAJER). More specifically, we focus on abnormal patterns of response in decision-making tests assessing executive and self-regulation functions. Please see the 'papers' section for bibliography.

    That line has obtained an outstanding evaluation by the funding public agency, and resources have been granted for the next 4 years. Our new project G-BRAINS specifically focuses on how causal learning processes and the rewarding properties of uncertinty contribute to gambling vulnerability and pathologization.


    As a member of the University of Granada Human Learning Research Group (now renamed as the Learning, Emotion and Decision Research Group), and in collaboration with Professors Antonio Maldonado, Andrés Catena, and Antonio Cándido, my main area of interest between 1998 and 2010 has been human causal learning.

    In these years we have tried to demonstrate that causal learning (the ability to detect causal relations in the world) is a complex psychological function that cannot be described by any simple learning algorithms. Inferring causality from observable contingencies requires the involvement of bottom-up coding processes to capture the information provided to the learner - probably in the form of simple input-output associations - but also integrative higher-order processes to flexibly operate with that information.

    At least three cognitive operations can be described at this level: (1) Information weighting, responsible for assessing the importance of each single piece of information to support or discard a certain causal hypothesis; (2) information integration, namely, the combination of all the available information necessary to elaborate a judgment or to make a decision on the basis of that information, and (3) judgment anchoring, the updating of previous beliefs on the basis of recent evidence.

    In our laboratory, we have developed several techniques to discriminate between these operations and study them separately. Experimental dissociation techniques and the application of the Signal Detection Theory principles have been useful to identify different factors affecting different operations (attentional, emotional, information presentation format, and probe question type manipulations). Currently, we focus on (1) demonstrating the importance of these factors in naturalistic attribution and decision making (in social and clinical contexts), (2) to offer an account of causal reasoning biases based on the model previously sketched, and (3) studying the neurocognitive bases of causal attribution.

Decision making proceses in shot selection in basketball

    Discriminative decision rule learning is a core ingredient in many interactive sports. In our first studies on this topic, we have used a laboratory simulation experiment (an adaptation of a Go/No-go task) in which we focus on the quantitative analysis of several important environmental determinants of shot selection in basketball: physical opposition, availability of rebound, defensive balance, presence of a viable alternative to shooting, and shooting distance. Our results show that these criteria are incorporated into decisions at different rates. Moreover, the use of such criteria is differentially sensitive to intentional (vs incidental) instruction. In practical terms, these results illustrate some of the potential limitations of explicit, prescriptive guidance from the coach.

Physical and mental workload interactions in sport

    In contrast with previous reports, our team (Drs. Cárdenas and Piñar, José Conde, MA,  and Guillermo Sánchez-Delgado, MA, from the Sport and Physical Activity Sciences Faculty, UGR) has found that mental workload contributes to subjetively perceived physical effort. Specifically, heavy mental workload makes people recover more slowly from exhausting exercise than controls. This effect does not seem to be mediated by resource depletion, as physiological recovery curves (VO2) do not show a significant effect of the degree of mental workload. This implies that fatigue and exhaustion must be regarded as motivational constructs, dependent not only on physiological homeostatic factors, but also on cognitive and emotional ones.

Text-image integration in instructional contexts (currently in standby)

    Working in an Education and teacher training school during two years led me to also become interested in a very different issue: the use of new technologies in instructional contexts. During that time, Dr Romero and I have developed a model of text-image integrative processing, applicable to any situation in which learning and/or teaching is supported by adjunt didactical images as graphs, figures, knowledge maps, or diagrams. That model stresses the importance of executive processing in the establishment of referential links among the information elements provided by the text and the image, simultaneously active in working memory. Our data demonstrate how important executive strategies are in learning from coordinated texts and images, and give us some clues on how low-performance learners can be trained to make a more efficient use of images to complement text comprehension.