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Dissociable correlates of response conflict and error awareness in error-related brain activity.

Errors in speeded decision tasks are associated with characteristic patterns of brain activity. In the scalp-recorded EEG, error processing is reflected in two components, the error-related negativity (ERN) and the error positivity (Pe). These components have been widely studied, but debate remains regarding the precise aspects of error processing they reflect. The present study investigated the relation between the ERN and Pe using a novel version of the flanker task to allow a comparison between errors reflecting different causes—response conflict versus stimulus masking. The conflict and mask conditions were matched for overall behavioural performance but differed in underlying response dynamics, as indexed by response time distributions and measures of lateralised motor activity. ERN amplitude varied in relation to these differing response dynamics, being significantly larger in the conflict condition compared to the mask condition. Furthermore, differences in response dynamics between participants were predictive of modulations in ERN amplitude. In contrast, Pe activity varied little between conditions, but varied across trials in relation to participants’ awareness of their errors. Taken together, these findings suggest a dissociation between the ERN and Pe, with the former reflecting the dynamics of response selection and conflict, and the latter reflecting conscious recognition of an error.



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