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Neuroimage. 2009 Oct 1;47(4):2023-30. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.05.064. Epub 2009 May 29.

Dissociable medial frontal negativities from a common monitoring system for self- and externally caused failure of goal achievement.

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Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt-University Berlin, Germany.


Goal-directed behavior requires the ability to adapt performance strategies based on the attribution of unintended outcomes to internal or external causes. Using event-related brain potentials, the present research compared neural activity following self-generated errors induced by a flanker task and following externally generated errors induced by supposed "technical malfunctions". Errors and malfunctions were associated with temporally dissociable ERP components, the short-latency error-related negativity (ERN) and the longer-latency feedback-related negativity (FRN), respectively. Independent component analysis (ICA) was applied to compare the underlying neural components of ERN and FRN. ICA results revealed that the FRN is attributable to the neural sources of the ERN, suggesting that the two components share a source network. Furthermore, single-trial amplitudes of ERN and FRN were specifically related to the implementation of error correction and malfunction compensation: the stronger the failure signal, the more efficient was remedial behavior. Together the results demonstrate that internally and externally generated unintended action outcomes engage a common monitoring mechanism that manifests in two temporally distinct ERP components and induces similar compensatory processes. The temporal dissociation of the ERP components might provide the basis for further processes of outcome attribution underlying action selection and changes in performance strategy. In line with recent neuroimaging findings, ERN and FRN appear to reflect the use of different sources of information about action outcome to update action value.

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