Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Worse Than Feared? Failure Induction Modulates the Electrophysiological Signature of Error Monitoring during Subsequent Learning

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Worse Than Feared? Failure Induction Modulates the Electrophysiological Signature of Error Monitoring during Subsequent Learning

Article excerpt

Abstract This study examined how self-relevant failure influences error monitoring-as reflected in the errorrelated negativity (Ne/ERN) -and behavioral adaptation during subsequent feedback-based learning. We applied two phases (pre- and posttest) of a probabilistic learning task. Between pre- and posttest, participants were assigned to one of two groups receiving either failure feedback or no feedback during a visual search task described as diagnostic of intellectual abilities. To disentangle the effects of failure and motivational disengagement due to prolonged task performance, we linked the posttest to intelligence (Experiment 1) or described it in neutral terms (Experiment 2). Failure induction was associated with an increase in Ne/ ERN amplitude at posttest in both experiments, although there were no differences in overall performance. In contrast, the Ne/ERN decreased from pre- to posttest in the no-failure-feedback group, particularly in Experiment 2. Furthermore, failure feedback affected error-related behavioral adjustments, suggesting a shift toward a reactive, error-driven mode of behavior control. These findings emphasize the importance of affective-motivational state in error processing and subsequent behavioral adaptation.

Keywords Negative affect . Motivation . Performance monitoring . Reinforcement learning . ERN


The acquisition and maintenance of adaptive goal-directed behavior requires the ability to detect discrepancies between intended and actual responses (i.e., errors) and to adjust behavior accordingly. The significance of an error, however, can vary considerably, with some errors placing the individual in serious danger or threatening a person's self-worth, whereas others have virtually no consequences. An efficient performance-monitoring system should, therefore, take into account the affective and motivational context of an action. Previous research has shown that the action-monitoring system is sensitive to motivational influences-for example, the significance of an error (Falkenstein, Hoormann, Christ, & Hohnsbein, 2000; Hajcak, Moser, Yeung, & Simons, 2005)-and there is also evidence that the induction of short-term negative affect modulates error monitoring (Olvet & Hajcak, 2011; Wiswede, Münte, Goschke, & Rüsseler 2009; Wiswede, Münte, & Rüsseler 2009). Given that the processing of response errors plays a critical role in learning, an important, but thus far unaddressed, question concerns the influence of experimental manipulations in affectivemotivational state on action-monitoring processes in errordriven learning.

So far, a large body of research indicates that uncontrollable failure experiences can severely disrupt subsequent instrumental learning (Mikulincer, 1994; Seligman, 1975; Wortman & Brehm, 1975). Detrimental consequences of failure on cognitive performance have been demonstrated in various tasks (Brunstein & Gollwitzer, 1996) and are assumed to be mediated by motivational deficits, particu- larly an expectation of future uncontrollability (Dweck & Reppucci, 1973), or cognitive interference-for example, that caused by ruminative thoughts (Brunstein, 1994). It should be emphasized, however, that failure experiences have also been found to improve performance by enhancing effort and task engagement (Brunstein, 2000; Elliott & Dweck, 1988). Nonetheless, most researchers in the field assume that failure outcomes are aversive and trigger negative affective states that individuals have to cope with.

In the present study, we examine whether self-relevant failure affects action-monitoring processes in a subsequent learning task. To this end, we analyze modulations of the error negativity (Ne; Falkenstein, Hohnsbein, Hoormann, & Blanke, 1991) or error-related negativity (ERN; Gehring, Goss, Coles, Meyer, & Donchin, 1993), an event-related potential (ERP) component that has been linked to the activity of an internal error-monitoring system. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.