Context dependence of the event-related brain potential associated with reward and punishment

Psychophysiology. 2004 Mar;41(2):245-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8986.2004.00152.x.


The error-related negativity (ERN) is an event-related brain potential elicited by error commission and by presentation of feedback stimuli indicating incorrect performance. In this study, the authors report two experiments in which participants tried to learn to select between response options by trial and error, using feedback stimuli indicating monetary gains and losses. The results demonstrate that the amplitude of the ERN is determined by the value of the eliciting outcome relative to the range of outcomes possible, rather than by the objective value of the outcome. This result is discussed in terms of a recent theory that holds that the ERN reflects a reward prediction error signal associated with a neural system for reinforcement learning.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Feedback
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Punishment / psychology*
  • Reward*