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In this study we will investigate the effects of hand-holding on various psychophysiological metrics performance monitoring and cognitive control. In dynamic environments, it is important that the cognitive system possesses the ability to detect events that deviate from desired goal-states, and subsequently implement changes in behaviour to move performance closer in line with intentions. Interestingly, a number of studies have indicated that these monitoring processes are related both to the motivational and affective significance of mistakes. In particular, the amplitude of the error-related negativity appears to increase with the subjective value or emotional significance of mistakes. Here, we tested how a handholding manipulation (handholding vs. no handholding would affect the ERN and inhibitory control). The social support provided by holding hands could affect this neural monitoring process in two potential ways:
First, holding hands and viewing images of loved ones has been demonstrated to reduce physical pain and neural reactions to pain. Thus, as the neural structures that facilitate performance monitoring overlap with the areas that are sensitive to pain, we might expect that performance monitoring would be reduced during a handholding condition (vs. no handholding) if this form of physical social support has such an anxiolytic effect. Furthermore, as it has been suggested that this affective sting of making an error also contributes motivation involved in the instantiation of control, we would also expect that this would result in the diminished implementation of control.
Alternatively, it has also been demonstrated that self-affirmation and mindful acceptance increases neural monitoring and cognitive control, potentially by reducing defensiveness to the threat represented by errors. Thus, if holding hands with your partner increases openness to threatening information or makes you less self-critical/judgemental, it is possible that these error-monitoring signals will actually be increased by handholding. This might also lead to the improved implementation of cognitive control.