Error awareness as evidence accumulation: effects of speed-accuracy trade-off on error signaling

Front Hum Neurosci. 2012 Aug 13:6:240. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00240. eCollection 2012.


Errors in choice tasks have been shown to elicit a cascade of characteristic components in the human event-related potential (ERPs)-the error-related negativity (Ne/ERN) and the error positivity (Pe). Despite the large number of studies concerned with these components, it is still unclear how they relate to error awareness as measured by overt error signaling responses. In the present study, we considered error awareness as a decision process in which evidence for an error is accumulated until a decision criterion is reached, and hypothesized that the Pe is a correlate of the accumulated decision evidence. To test the prediction that the amplitude of the Pe varies as a function of the strength and latency of the accumulated evidence for an error, we manipulated the speed-accuracy trade-off (SAT) in a brightness discrimination task while participants signaled the occurrence of errors. Based on a previous modeling study, we predicted that lower speed pressure should be associated with weaker evidence for an error and, thus, with smaller Pe amplitudes. As predicted, average Pe amplitude was decreased and error signaling was impaired in a low speed pressure condition compared to a high speed pressure condition. In further analyses, we derived single-trial Pe amplitudes using a logistic regression approach. Single-trial amplitudes robustly predicted the occurrence of signaling responses on a trial-by-trial basis. These results confirm the predictions of the evidence accumulation account, supporting the notion that the Pe reflects accumulated evidence for an error and that this evidence drives the emergence of error awareness.

Keywords: error awareness; error positivity; error-related negativity; event-related potentials; performance monitoring; single-trial analysis.