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Dominant and opponent relations in cortical function: An EEG study of exam performance and stress

1 Department of Higher Nervous Activity and Psychophysiology, Faculty of Biology, St. Petersburg State University, St.-Petersburg, Russia
2 Department of Anatomy and Physiology of Humans and Animals, Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia, St.-Petersburg, Russia
3 International Research Center of the Functional Materials and Devices of Optoelectronics and Electronics, ITMO University, Saint Petersburg, Russia
4 Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic

This paper analyzes the opponent dynamics of human motivational and affective processes, as conceptualized by RS Solomon, from the position of AA Ukhtomsky’s neurophysiological principle of the dominant and its applications in the field of human electroencephalographic analysis. As an experimental model, we investigate the dynamics of cortical activity in students submitting university final course oral examinations in naturalistic settings, and show that successful performance in these settings depends on the presence of specific types of cortical activation patterns, involving high indices of left-hemispheric and frontal cortical dominance, whereas the lack thereof predicts poor performance on the task, and seems to be associated with difficulties in the executive regulation of cognitive (intellectual) and motivational processes in these highly demanding and stressful conditions. Based on such knowledge, improved educational and therapeutic interventions can be suggested which take into account individual variability in the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying adaptation to motivationally and intellectually challenging, stressful tasks, such as oral university exams. Some implications of this research for opponent-process theory and its closer integration into current neuroscience research on acquired motivations are discussed.
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