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Front Hum Neurosci. 2012 May 4;6:124. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00124. eCollection 2012.

Is any awareness necessary for an Ne?

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Department of Cognitive Science, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Jerusalem, Israel.


The Error-Related Negativity (Ne or ERN) is a reliable electrophysiological index of error processing, which has been found to be independent of whether a subject is aware of an error or not. A large Ne was equally seen after errors that were consciously detected (Aware errors) and those that were not (Unaware errors), compared to a small negativity for correct responses (CRN). This suggests a dissociation between an automatic, preconscious error processing mechanism and subjective evaluation. A common concern regarding this finding is that subjects could have been somewhat aware of their errors, but did not report them due to lack of confidence. Here we tested this possibility directly using a betting paradigm which allowed us to separate occasions in which the subjects were confident of their response and trials in which they were unsure. In a choice reaction time task, subjects directly judged the accuracy of each response (correct or error) and then bet on this judgment using a high, medium, or low amount of money. The bets were used to determine the level of confidence the subjects had of their response. The average across all subjects regardless of confidence (betting) measure replicated the reported finding of an equal Ne for Aware and Unaware errors which was larger than the CRN. However, when Ne measurement was confined to high confidence (high bet) trials in confident subjects, a prominent Ne was seen only for Aware errors, while confident Unaware errors (i.e., error trials on which subjects made high bets that they were correct) elicited a response that did not differ from the CRN elicited by truly correct answers. In contrast, for low confidence trials in unconfident subjects, an intermediate and equal Ne/CRN was elicited by CRN, Aware and Unaware errors. These results provide direct evidence that the Ne is related to error awareness, and suggest the amplitude of the Ne/CRN depends on individual differences in error reporting and confidence.


Ne; Pe; confidence; error awareness; error processing; wagering

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