Impact of reward and punishment motivation on behavior monitoring as indexed by the error-related negativity

Int J Psychophysiol. 2011 Sep;81(3):324-31. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2011.07.020. Epub 2011 Aug 17.


The error-related negativity (ERN) is thought to index a neural behavior monitoring system with its source in anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). While ACC is involved in a wide variety of cognitive and emotional tasks, there is debate as to what aspects of ACC function are indexed by the ERN. In one model the ERN indexes purely cognitive function, responding to mismatch between intended and executed actions. Another model posits that the ERN is more emotionally driven, elicited when an action is inconsistent with motivational goals. If the ERN indexes mismatch between intended and executed actions, then it should be insensitive to motivational valence, e.g. reward or punishment; in contrast if the ERN indexes the evaluation of responses relative to goals, then it might respond differentially under differing motivational valence. This study used a flanker task motivated by potential reward and potential punishment on different trials and also examined the N2 and P3 to the imperative stimulus, the response Pe, and the FRN and P3 to the outcome feedback to assess the impact of motivation valence on other stages of information processing in this choice reaction time task. Participants were slower on punishment motivated trials and both the N2 and ERN were larger on punishment motivated trials, indicating that loss aversion has an impact on multiple stages of information processing including behavior monitoring.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Feedback, Psychological / physiology
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Punishment*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reading
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult