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Hum Brain Mapp. 2010 Mar;31(3):458-69. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20879.

Executive function and error detection: The effect of motivation on cingulate and ventral striatum activity.

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  • 1Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.


Reacting appropriately to errors during task performance is fundamental to successful negotiation of our environment. This is especially true when errors will result in a significant penalty for the person performing a given task, be they financial or otherwise. Error responses and monitoring states were manipulated in a GO/NOGO task by introducing a financial punishment for errors. This study employed a mixed block design alternating between punishment and no punishment (neutral) conditions, enabling an assessment of tonic changes associated with cognitive control as well as trial-specific effects. Behavioural results revealed slower responses and fewer commission errors in the punishment condition. The dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) had equal trial-specific activity for errors in the neutral and punishment conditions but had greater tonic activity throughout the punishment condition. A region of interest analysis revealed different activation patterns between the dorsal and the rostral parts of the ACC with the rostral ACC having only trial-specific activity for errors in the punishment condition, an activity profile similar to one observed in the nucleus accumbens. This study suggests that there is a motivational influence on cognitive processes in the ACC and nucleus accumbens and hints at a dissociation between tonic proactive activity and phasic reactive error-related activity.

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