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J Cogn Neurosci. 2012 Aug;24(8):1753-65. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00242. Epub 2012 May 9.

The phenomenology of error processing: the dorsal ACC response to stop-signal errors tracks reports of negative affect.

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  • 1University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


A reliable observation in neuroimaging studies of cognitive control is the response of dorsal ACC (dACC) to events that demand increased cognitive control (e.g., response conflicts and performance errors). This observation is apparently at odds with a comparably reliable association of the dACC with the subjective experience of negative affective states such as pain, fear, and anxiety. Whereas "affective" associates of the dACC are based on studies that explicitly manipulate and/or measure the subjective experience of negative affect, the "cognitive" associates of dACC are based on studies using tasks designed to manipulate the demand for cognitive control, such as the Stroop, flanker, and stop-signal tasks. Critically, extant neuroimaging research has not systematically considered the extent to which these cognitive tasks induce negative affective experiences and, if so, to what extent negative affect can account for any variance in the dACC response during task performance. While undergoing fMRI, participants in this study performed a stop-signal task while regularly reporting their experience of performance on several dimensions. We observed that within-subject variability in the dACC response to stop-signal errors tracked changes in subjective frustration throughout task performance. This association remained when controlling for within-subject variability in subjective reports of cognitive engagement and several performance-related variables indexing task difficulty. These results fit with existing models characterizing the dACC as a hub for monitoring ongoing behavior and motivating adjustments when necessary and further emphasize that such a function may be linked to the subjective experience of negative affect.

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