Enhanced Theta-Band Coherence Between Midfrontal and Posterior Parietal Areas Reflects Post-feedback Adjustments in the State of Outcome Uncertainty

Front Integr Neurosci. 2019 Apr 24;13:14. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2019.00014. eCollection 2019.


Medial frontal cortex is currently viewed as the main hub of the performance monitoring system; upon detection of an error committed, it establishes functional connections with brain regions involved in task performance, thus leading to neural adjustments in them. Previous research has identified targets of such adjustments in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, posterior cortical regions, motor cortical areas, and subthalamic nucleus. Yet most of such studies involved visual tasks with relatively moderate cognitive load and strong dependence on motor inhibition - thus highlighting sensory, executive and motor effects while underestimating sensorimotor transformation and related aspects of decision making. Currently there is ample evidence that posterior parietal cortical areas are involved in task-specific neural processes of decision making (including evidence accumulation, sensorimotor transformation, attention, etc.) - yet, to our knowledge, no EEG studies have demonstrated post-error increase in functional connectivity in the theta-band between midfrontal and posterior parietal areas during performance on non-visual tasks. In the present study, we recorded EEG while subjects were performing an auditory version of the cognitively demanding attentional condensation task; this task involves rather non-straightforward stimulus-to-response mapping rules, thus, creating increased load on sensorimotor transformation. We observed strong pre-response alpha-band suppression in the left parietal area, which presumably reflected involvement of the posterior parietal cortex in task-specific decision-making processes. Negative feedback was followed by increased midfrontal theta-band power and increased functional coupling in the theta band between midfrontal and left parietal regions. This could be interpreted as activation of the performance monitoring system and top-down influence of this system on the posterior parietal regions involved in decision making, respectively. This inter-site coupling related to negative feedback was stronger for subjects who tended to commit errors with slower response times. Generally, current findings support the idea that slower errors are related to the state of outcome uncertainty caused by failures of task-specific processes, associated with posterior parietal regions.

Keywords: alpha oscillations; cognitive control; decision making; error detection; functional connectivity; posterior parietal cortex; theta oscillations.