Error blindness and motivational significance: Shifts in networks centering on anterior insula co-vary with error awareness and pupil dilation

Behav Brain Res. 2018 Dec 14:355:24-35. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2017.10.030. Epub 2017 Oct 26.


This investigation aims to further our understanding of the brain mechanisms underlying the awareness of one's erroneous actions. While all errors are registered as such in the rostral cingulate zone, errors enter awareness only when the anterior insula cortex is activated. Aware but not unaware errors elicit autonomic nervous system reactivity. Our aim is to investigate the hypothesis that activation in the insula during error awareness is related to autonomic arousal and to inter-regional interactions with other areas of the brain. To examine the role of the anterior insula in error awareness, we assessed its functional connectivity to other brain regions along with autonomic nervous system reactivity in young healthy participants who underwent simultaneous pupil-diameter and functional magnetic resonance imaging measurements while performing a complex and error-prone task. Error blindness was associated with failures to engage sufficient autonomic reactivity. During aware errors increased pupil-diameter along with increased task-related activation within, and increased connectivity between anterior insula and task-related networks suggested an increased capacity for action-control information transfer. Increased pupil-diameter during aware errors was furthermore associated with decreased activation of the default-mode network along with decreased insular connectivity with regions of the default mode system, possibly reflecting decreased task-irrelevant information processing. This shifting mechanism may be relevant to a better understanding of how the brain and the autonomic nervous system interact to enable efficient adaptive behavior during cognitive challenge.

MeSH terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / diagnostic imaging
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Pupil / physiology*
  • Saccades / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology
  • Young Adult