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J Neurosci. 2009 Sep 30;29(39):12183-6. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1751-09.2009.

When errors are rewarding.

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Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition, and Behaviour, Radboud University Nijmegen, 6500 HE Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


For social beings like humans, detecting one's own and others' errors is essential for efficient goal-directed behavior. Although one's own errors are always negative events, errors from other persons may be negative or positive depending on the social context. We used neuroimaging to disentangle brain activations related to error and reward processing, by manipulating the social context (cooperation or competition). Activation in posterior medial frontal cortex (pMFC) was increased for all errors, independent of who made the error or the reward outcome. Conversely, activity in striatum was modulated by reward, independent of whether the action was erroneous or not. The results demonstrate a clear distinction between error and reward processing in the human brain. Importantly, the current study indicates that error detection in pMFC is independent of reward and generalizes beyond our own actions, highlighting its role in optimizing performance in both individual and joint action.

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