Error Negativity Does Not Reflect Conflict: A Reappraisal of Conflict Monitoring and Anterior Cingulate Cortex Activity


  • Burle Boris
  • Roger Clémence
  • Allain Sonia
  • Vidal Franck
  • Hasbroucq Thierry

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Our ability to detect and correct errors is essential for our adaptive behavior. The conflict-loop theory states that the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) plays a key role in detecting the need to increase control through conflict monitoring. Such monitoring is assumed to manifest itself in an electroencephalographic (EEG) component, the "error negativity" (Ne or "error-related negativity" [ERN]). We have directly tested the hypothesis that the ACC monitors conflict through simulation and experimental studies. Both the simulated and EEG traces were sorted, on a trial-by-trial basis, as a function of the degree of conflict, measured as the temporal overlap between incorrect and correct response activations. The simulations clearly show that conflict increases as temporal overlap between response activation increases, whereas the experimental results demonstrate that the amplitude of the Ne decreases as temporal overlap increases, suggesting that the ACC does not monitor conflict. At a functional level, the results show that the duration of the Ne depends on the time needed to correct (partial) errors, revealing an "on-line" modulation of control on a very short time scale.

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