The neural basis of error detection: conflict monitoring and the error-related negativity.
Yeung N., Botvinick MM., Cohen JD.
According to a recent theory, anterior cingulate cortex is sensitive to response conflict, the coactivation of mutually incompatible responses. The present research develops this theory to provide a new account of the error-related negativity (ERN), a scalp potential observed following errors. Connectionist simulations of response conflict in an attentional task demonstrated that the ERN--its timing and sensitivity to task parameters--can be explained in terms of the conflict theory. A new experiment confirmed predictions of this theory regarding the ERN and a second scalp potential, the N2, that is proposed to reflect conflict monitoring on correct response trials. Further analysis of the simulation data indicated that errors can be detected reliably on the basis of post-error conflict. It is concluded that the ERN can be explained in terms of response conflict and that monitoring for conflict may provide a simple mechanism for detecting errors.