Error observation as a window on performance monitoring in social contexts? A systematic review

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2023 Apr:147:105077. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2023.105077. Epub 2023 Feb 8.


Living in a social world requires social monitoring, i.e., the ability to keep track of others' actions and mistakes. Here, we demonstrate the good reliability of the behavioral and neurophysiological indexes ascribed to social monitoring. We also show that no consensus exists on the cognitive bases of this phenomenology and discuss three alternative hypotheses: (i) the direct matching hypothesis, postulating that observed errors are processed through automatic simulation; (ii) the attentional hypothesis, considering errors as unexpected events that take resources away from task processing; and (iii) the goal representation hypothesis, which weighs social error monitoring depending on how relevant the other's task is to the observer's goals. To date, evidence on the role played by factors that could help to disentangle these hypotheses (e.g., the human vs. non-human nature of the actor, the error rate, and the reward context) is insufficient, although the goal representation hypothesis seems to receive more support. Theory-driven experimental designs are needed to enlighten this debate and clarify the role of error monitoring during interactive exchanges.

Keywords: Action observation; EEG; Error observation; Meta-analysis; Performance monitoring; Social interaction; fMRI; oPES.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Social Environment*