How the brain becomes aware of errors
For a long time psychologists have devised methods to make people erroneous on a task. A well-known example is the Stroop effect, a demonstration of interference in the reaction time of a task. When a word such as blue, green, red, etc. is printed in a colour differing from the colour expressed by the word’s […]
For a long time psychologists have devised methods to make people erroneous on a task. A well-known example is the Stroop effect, a demonstration of interference in the reaction time of a task. When a word such as blue, green, red, etc. is printed in a colour differing from the colour expressed by the word’s semantic meaning (e.g. the word “red” printed in blue ink), a delay occurs in the processing of the word’s colour, leading to slower test reaction times and an increase in mistakes.
The study of the neural correlates of the Stroop effect have revealed, among other correlates, an increased activation in the prefrontal cortex. But what happens if you discover that you have made a mistake and try to correct it? This kind of “error awareness” has now been documented in a recent study published in NeuroImage. We here bring the abstract and a poster.
Error processing results in a number of consequences on multiple levels. The posterior frontomedian cortex (pFMC) is involved in performance monitoring and signalling the need for adjustments, which can be observed as post-error speed-accuracy shifts at the behavioural level. Furthermore autonomic reactions to an error have been reported. The role of conscious error awareness for this processing cascade has received little attention of researchers so far.
We examined the neural correlates of conscious error perception in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study. An antisaccade task known to yield sufficient numbers of aware and unaware errors was used. Results from a metaanalysis were used to guide a region of interest (ROI) analysis of the fMRI data.
Consistent with previous reports, error-related activity in the rostral cingulate zone (RCZ), the pre-supplementary motor area (pre-SMA) and the insular cortex bilaterally was found. Whereas the RCZ activity did not differentiate between aware and unaware errors, activity in the left anterior inferior insular cortex was stronger for aware as compared to unaware errors. This could be due to increased awareness of the autonomic reaction to an error, or the increased autonomic reaction itself. Furthermore, post-error adjustments were only observed after aware errors and a correlation between post-error slowing and the hemodynamic activity in the RCZ was revealed.
The data suggest that the RCZ activity alone is insufficient to drive error awareness. Its signal appears to be useful for post-error speed-accuracy adjustments only when the error is consciously perceived.