Learning from experience: event-related potential correlates of reward processing, neural adaptation, and behavioral choice

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2012 Sep;36(8):1870-84. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2012.05.008. Epub 2012 Jun 7.


To behave adaptively, we must learn from the consequences of our actions. Studies using event-related potentials (ERPs) have been informative with respect to the question of how such learning occurs. These studies have revealed a frontocentral negativity termed the feedback-related negativity (FRN) that appears after negative feedback. According to one prominent theory, the FRN tracks the difference between the values of actual and expected outcomes, or reward prediction errors. As such, the FRN provides a tool for studying reward valuation and decision making. We begin this review by examining the neural significance of the FRN. We then examine its functional significance. To understand the cognitive processes that occur when the FRN is generated, we explore variables that influence its appearance and amplitude. Specifically, we evaluate four hypotheses: (1) the FRN encodes a quantitative reward prediction error; (2) the FRN is evoked by outcomes and by stimuli that predict outcomes; (3) the FRN and behavior change with experience; and (4) the system that produces the FRN is maximally engaged by volitional actions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Feedback, Psychological / physiology
  • Humans
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reward*