ERP components on reaction errors and their functional significance: a tutorial

Biol Psychol. 2000 Jan;51(2-3):87-107. doi: 10.1016/s0301-0511(99)00031-9.


Some years ago we described a negative (Ne) and a later positive (Pe) deflection in the event-related brain potentials (ERPs) of incorrect choice reactions [Falkenstein, M., Hohnsbein, J., Hoormann, J., Blanke, L., 1990. In: Brunia, C.H.M., Gaillard, A.W.K., Kok, A. (Eds.), Psychophysiological Brain Research. Tilburg Univesity Press, Tilburg, pp. 192-195. Falkenstein, M., Hohnsbein, J., Hoormann, J., 1991. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 78, 447-455]. Originally we assumed the Ne to represent a correlate of error detection in the sense of a mismatch signal when representations of the actual response and the required response are compared. This hypothesis was supported by the results of a variety of experiments from our own laboratory and that of Coles [Gehring, W. J., Goss, B., Coles, M.G.H., Meyer, D.E., Donchin, E., 1993. Psychological Science 4, 385-390. Bernstein, P.S., Scheffers, M.K., Coles, M.G.H., 1995. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 21, 1312-1322. Scheffers, M.K., Coles, M. G.H., Bernstein, P., Gehring, W.J., Donchin, E., 1996. Psychophysiology 33, 42-54]. However, new data from our laboratory and that of Vidal et al. [Vidal, F., Hasbroucq, T., Bonnet, M., 1999. Biological Psychology, 2000] revealed a small negativity similar to the Ne also after correct responses. Since the above mentioned comparison process is also required after correct responses it is conceivable that the Ne reflects this comparison process itself rather than its outcome. As to the Pe, our results suggest that this is a further error-specific component, which is independent of the Ne, and hence associated with a later aspect of error processing or post-error processing. Our new results with different age groups argue against the hypotheses that the Pe reflects conscious error processing or the post-error adjustment of response strategies. Further research is necessary to specify the functional significance of the Pe.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Reaction Time