Error-related brain activity reveals self-centric motivation: culture matters

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2014 Feb;143(1):62-70. doi: 10.1037/a0031696. Epub 2013 Feb 11.


To secure the interest of the personal self (vs. social others) is considered a fundamental human motive, but the nature of the motivation to secure the self-interest is not well understood. To address this issue, we assessed electrocortical responses of European Americans and Asians as they performed a flanker task while instructed to earn as many reward points as possible either for the self or for their same-sex friend. For European Americans, error-related negativity (ERN)-an event-related-potential component contingent on error responses--was significantly greater in the self condition than in the friend condition. Moreover, post-error slowing--an index of cognitive control to reduce errors--was observed in the self condition but not in the friend condition. Neither of these self-centric effects was observed among Asians, consistent with prior cross-cultural behavioral evidence. Interdependent self-construal mediated the effect of culture on the ERN self-centric effect. Our findings provide the first evidence for a neural correlate of self-centric motivation, which becomes more salient outside of interdependent social relations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Culture*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Self Concept*
  • Self Report
  • Young Adult