Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Outcome Expectancy and Not Accuracy Determines Posterror Slowing: ERP Support

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Outcome Expectancy and Not Accuracy Determines Posterror Slowing: ERP Support

Article excerpt

A considerable number of studies have recently used event-related potentials (ERPs) to investigate the mechanisms underlying error processing. Nevertheless, how these mechanisms are associated with behavioral adjustments following errors remains unclear. In the present study, we investigated how posterror slowing is linked to outcome expectations and error feedback. We used an adaptive four-choice reaction time task to manipulate outcome expectancy. Behaviorally, the results show posterror slowing when errors are unexpected and postcorrect slowing when correct responses are unexpected, indicating that outcome expectancy is crucial for posterror slowing. ERP analyses revealed that the error-related negativity and the feedback-related negativity were not correlated with the behavioral reaction time pattern, whereas the P3 was. The results support the hypothesis that posterror slowing is caused by attentional orienting to unexpected events.

Mechanisms that support cognitive control induce behavioral adaptations based on performance of earlier trials in order to optimize task performance. Errors are thought to play an important role in this by signaling the necessity to implement online adjustments. On the behavioral level, it has consistently been found that participants' response speed decreases after an error. According to conflict monitoring theory (CMT; Botvinick, Braver, Barch, Carter, & Cohen, 2001), errors result in a strategic adaptation (i.e., an increase of the response threshold) in order to reduce error likelihood on the following trial. Consequently, CMT predicts increased reaction times (RTs) and increased accuracy following errors. However, although posterror slowing in combination with increased accuracy has been reported occasionally (Laming, 1968; Marco-Pallares, Camara, Münte, & Rodríguez-Fornells, 2008; Rabbitt, 1966), other studies have found posterror slowing in combination with decreased accuracy (Hajcak, McDonald, & Simons, 2003; Hajcak & Simons, 2008; Laming, 1979; Rabbitt & Rodgers, 1977).

Other lines of research raise additional doubt about this cognitive explanation for posterror slowing. For instance, recent psychopharmacological studies have shown that deficient error detection is not related to modulations in the size of the slowing (Riba, Rodríguez-Fornells, Morte, Münte, & Barbanoj, 2005; Riba, Rodríguez-Fornells, Münte, & Barbanoj, 2005; Rodríguez-Fornells, Kurzbuch, & Münte, 2002). Moreover, studies with schizophrenic and Parkinson's patients show deficient error detection in the frontal brain, whereas posterror slowing is not affected (e.g., Mathalon et al., 2002). Along the same lines, neurological studies have demonstrated that damage in brain areas that are thought to play an essential role in cognitive control and conflict monitoring (i.e., lateral prefrontal cortex and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) does not affect posterror slowing (Gehring & Knight, 2000; Modirrousta & Fellows, 2008).

Taken together, these findings argue against the widely accepted idea that posterror slowing is a compensatory control mechanism geared toward improving performance in subsequent trials (Gehring & Fencsik, 2001). Interestingly, Notebaert et al. (2009) recently reported evidence in favor of an alternative account for posterror slowing, which suggests that slowing after errors might be caused by attentional orienting to unexpected events (orienting account). In a first experiment, an adaptive four-colorchoice RT task was used to manipulate the expectancy of error and correct responses. Participants performed the task in three accuracy conditions: a 75%-correct condition (correct expectancy), a 55%-correct condition (control), and a 35%-correct condition (error expectancy); color intensity was adjusted in order to reach these accuracy levels. Behaviorally, the results showed posterror slowing in the 75%-correct condition, but, remarkably, in the 35%-correct condition, postcorrect slowing was found. …

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