In the New York Times article on this paper (link), the author points out that
Brain-imaging studies of people evaluating anomalies, or working out unsettling dilemmas, show that activity in an area called the anterior cingulate cortex spikes significantly. The more activation is recorded, the greater the motivation or ability to seek and correct errors in the real world, a recent study suggests. “The idea that we may be able to increase that motivation,” said Dr. Inzlicht, a co-author, “is very much worth investigating.”
This is one of those extraordinary ‘connection’ moments for me. This idea relates precisely to the implicit and explicit motivation dual process account I just wrote up in a book chapter. In Dr Inzlicht’s paper, the magnitude of the ‘Error Related Negativity’ ERP component (generated by the anterior cingulate cortex) following errors was significantly correlated with better academic performance as measured by official student transcripts. So here we have a link between ‘norm violation’ detection and intelligence. Interestingly Dr. Inzlicht seems to understand the effect in terms of motivation: the motivation to correct errors. More on this later.
How might this Anterior Cingulate study relate to Proulx & Heine ’Kafka’ study? Here is a quote from the paper on meaning compensation:
Several recent studies have suggested that people will also fluidly compensate for meaning threats by affirming unrelated meaning frameworks (e.g., Burris & Rempel, 2004; McGregor et al., 2001; Navarrete, Kurzban, Fessler, & Kirkpatrick, 2004). In response to these studies, we have directly tested and supported the hypothesis that the meaning frameworks people affirm in meaning-maintenance efforts are radically substitutable, such that one meaning framework (e.g., moral beliefs) or another meaning framework (e.g., group affiliation) may be called upon when an unrelated meaning framework (e.g., a perceptual schema) is violated (Proulx & Heine, 2008).
My proposal is that this ‘radical substitutability’ may reflect an underlying normativity learning & self regulating system, that relates to intelligence. When there are threats to meaning (i.e. normativity), this system has a widespread motivational effect on all normatively regulated cognition from perception and grammar all the way up to moral and existential value-systems.