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Neural and behavioral traces of error awareness

Kirschner, Hans; Humann, Jil; Derrfuss, Jan; Danielmeier, Claudia; Ullsperger, Markus

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Hans Kirschner

Jil Humann

Markus Ullsperger


Monitoring for errors and behavioral adjustments after errors are essential for daily life. A question that has not been addressed systematically yet, is whether consciously perceived errors lead to different behavioral adjustments compared to unperceived errors. Our goal was to develop a task that would enable us to study different commonly observed neural correlates of error processing and post-error adjustments in their relation to error awareness and accuracy confidence in a single experiment. We assessed performance in a new number judgement error awareness task in 70 participants. We used multiple, robust, single-trial EEG regressions to investigate the link between neural correlates of error processing (e.g., error-related negativity (ERN) and error positivity (Pe)) and error awareness. We found that only aware errors had a slowing effect on reaction times in consecutive trials, but this slowing was not accompanied by post-error increases in accuracy. On a neural level, error awareness and confidence had a modulating effect on both the ERN and Pe, whereby the Pe was most predictive of participants’ error awareness. Additionally, we found partial support for a mediating role of error awareness on the coupling between the ERN and behavioral adjustments in the following trial. Our results corroborate previous findings that show both an ERN/Pe and a post-error behavioral adaptation modulation by error awareness. This suggests that conscious error perception can support meta-control processes balancing the recruitment of proactive and reactive control. Furthermore, this study strengthens the role of the Pe as a robust neural index of error awareness.


Kirschner, H., Humann, J., Derrfuss, J., Danielmeier, C., & Ullsperger, M. (2021). Neural and behavioral traces of error awareness. Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, 21, 573-591.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 21, 2020
Online Publication Date Oct 6, 2020
Publication Date 2021
Deposit Date Oct 14, 2020
Publicly Available Date Oct 14, 2020
Journal Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience
Print ISSN 1530-7026
Electronic ISSN 1531-135X
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 21
Pages 573-591
Keywords Cognitive Neuroscience; Behavioral Neuroscience
Public URL
Publisher URL


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