The control network is never off

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Chapter 11 endnote 9, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

Sometimes your control network plays a large role in the construction process, and other times its role is less, but it is always involved, and the latter times are not necessarily emotional.

Your brain is always generating multiple predictions, each with its own action plan, and your control network is always helping to manage the construction process, sometimes playing a large role, and other times less so. Your control network helps manage body-budgeting predictions that exist over different time scales (e.g., the impact of having a couple of pieces of chocolate cake now vs. avoiding weight gain in the future). To accomplish this, the neurons in the control network can keep some neurons firing in the absence of sensory inputs, a phenomenon psychologists call "working memory.[1] Working memory is not a place in the brain, but something the brain does. These neurons can also inhibit certain actions (like putting a piece of cake into your mouth) in favor of enhancing the likelihood of others (like getting up from the dinner table). For a list of phenomena associated with control network function, see cognitive control and its various meanings.

When a brain image fails to show blobs of activity in the control network, this only means that the network is only working as hard in the experimental task as it does in the baseline task, but your control network is never fully “off.”

From a purely biological standpoint, you will have more difficulty controlling your actions and they will feel more “automatic” to you when you have the urge to act, associated with more concentration of a neurotransmitter called dopamine.[2][3]

The work of Joshua Buckholtz


Notes on the Notes

  1. If the phrase "neurons firing in the absence of sensory input" sounds familiar, you're right. That's how I defined simulation in chapter 4. In fact, the neural mechanisms behind working memory and simulation are not different.
  2. Buckholtz [full reference to be provided]
  3. Dolan [full reference to be provided]