Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Avoiding Another Mistake: Error and Posterror Neural Activity Associated with Adaptive Posterror Behavior Change

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Avoiding Another Mistake: Error and Posterror Neural Activity Associated with Adaptive Posterror Behavior Change

Article excerpt

The magnitude of posterior medial frontal cortex (pMFC) activity during commission of an error has been shown to relate to adaptive posterror changes in response behavior on the trial immediately following. In the present article, we examined neural activity during and after error commission to identify its relationship to sustained posterior behavior changes that led to performance improvements several trials into the future. The standard task required participants to inhibit a prepotent motor response during infrequent lure trials, which were randomly interspersed among numerous go trials. Posterror behavior was manipulated by introducing a dynamic condition, in which an error on a lure trial ensured that the next lure would appear within two to seven go trials. Behavioral data indicated significantly higher levels of posterror slowing and accuracy during the dynamic condition, as well as fewer consecutive lure errors. Bilateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) and pMFC activity during the posterror period, but not during commission of the error itself, was associated with increased posterror slowing. Activity within two of these regions (right PFC and pMFC) also predicted success on the next lure trial. The findings support a relationship between pMFC/PFC activity and adaptive posterror behavior change, and the discrepancy between these findings and those of previous studies-in the present study, this relationship was detected during the posterror period rather than during commission of the error itself-may have resulted from the requirements of the present task. Implications of this discrepancy for the flexibility of cognitive control are discussed.

The neural mechanisms underlying error processing have been the subject of much research (Ridderinkhof, Ullsperger, Crone, & Nieuwenhuis, 2004); however, how error-related neural activity influences posterror changes in behavior remains relatively unclear. In particular, it is unclear which error-related neural processes are associated with sustained adaptive changes hi behavior that help us avoid repeating a mistake. The ability to adjust our behavioral responses following an error is critical to everyday life and provides the foundation for learning many complex skills. Healthy adults learn from their mistakes remarkably quickly, often making only one mistake before adapting their behavior (Noble, 1957). Conversely, difficulty in adjusting behavior following an error, or making the same error repeatedly, is characteristic of a number of clinical conditions (Barbarotto, Capitani, Jori, Laiacona, & MoIinari, 1998; Kopp & Rist, 1994; Russell & Jarrold, 1998).

A range of evidence implicates the posterior medial frontal cortex (pMFC) in error processing (Gehring, Goss, Coles, Meyer, & Donchin, 1993; Ridderinkhof et al., 2004; Ullsperger & von Cramon, 2003) and includes the finding that many clinical conditions are associated with dysfunctional pMFC responses to errors (Carter, MacDonald, Ross, & Stenger, 2001; Gehring & Knight, 2000; Kaufman, Ross, Stein, & Caravan, 2003). The magnitude of neural activity in the pMFC has also been related to adaptive posterior changes in response behavior, such as improvement in response speed following an error, which suggests increases in cognitive control (Kerns et al., 2004), or generalized slowing of responding, which, it is argued, reflects more cautious posterror behavior (Debener et al., 2005; Caravan, Ross, Murphy, Roche, & Stein, 2002; Gehring et al., 1993; Hajcak, McDonald, & Simons, 2003). These studies have also suggested that adaptive posterror changes in behavior appear to stem from a relationship between error-related activity in the pMFC and posterror activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortices (dlPFC) (Caravan et al., 2002; Kerns et al., 2004). For example, Kerns and colleagues found that higher levels of error-related pMFC activity during a Stroop task were associated with greater right dlPFC activity on the next trial, which in turn was associated with slowed response speeds during that trial (or with the magnitude of posterror slowing). …

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