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PLoS One. 2016 Apr 21;11(4):e0153941. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0153941. eCollection 2016.

Target and Non-Target Processing during Oddball and Cyberball: A Comparative Event-Related Potential Study.

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Department of Education and Psychology, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany.


The phenomenon of social exclusion can be investigated by using a virtual ball-tossing game called Cyberball. In neuroimaging studies, structures have been identified which are activated during social exclusion. But to date the underlying mechanisms are not fully disclosed. In previous electrophysiological studies it was shown that the P3 complex is sensitive to exclusion manipulations in the Cyberball paradigm and that there is a correlation between P3 amplitude and self-reported social pain. Since this posterior event-related potential (ERP) was widely investigated using the oddball paradigm, we directly compared the ERP effects elicited by the target (Cyberball: "ball possession") and non-target (Cyberball: "ball possession of a co-player) events in both paradigms. Analyses mainly focused on the effect of altered stimulus probabilities of the target and non-target events between two consecutive blocks of the tasks. In the first block, the probability of the target and non-target event was 33% (Cyberball: inclusion), in the second block target probability was reduced to 17%, and accordingly, non-target probability was increased to 66% (Cyberball: exclusion). Our results indicate that ERP amplitude differences between inclusion and exclusion are comparable to ERP amplitude effects in a visual oddball task. We therefore suggest that ERP effects--especially in the P3 range--in the Oddball and Cyberball paradigm rely on similar mechanisms, namely the probability of target and non-target events. Since the simulation of social exclusion (Cyberball) did not trigger a unique ERP response, the idea of an exclusion-specific neural alarm system is not supported. The limitations of an ERP-based approach will be discussed.

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