Detecting and correcting partial errors: Evidence for efficient control without conscious access


  • Rochet Nicolas
  • Spieser Laure
  • Casini Laurence
  • Hasbroucq Thierry
  • Burle Boris


  • Action awareness
  • Cognitive control
  • Error detection

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Appropriate reactions to erroneous actions are es- sential to keeping behavior adaptive. Erring, however, is not an all-or-none process: electromyographic (EMG) recordings of the responding muscles have revealed that covert incorrect response activations (termed “partial errors”) occur on a pro- portion of overtly correct trials. The occurrence of such “par- tial errors” shows that incorrect response activations could be corrected online, before turning into overt errors. In the pres- ent study, we showed that, unlike overt errors, such “partial errors” are poorly consciously detected by participants, who could report only one third of their partial errors. Two param- eters of the partial errors were found to predict detection: the surface of the incorrect EMG burst (larger for detected) and the correction time (between the incorrect and correct EMG onsets; longer for detected). These two parameters provided independent information. The correct(ive) responses associat- ed with detected partial errors were larger than the “pure- correct” ones, and this increase was likely a consequence, rather than a cause, of the detection. The respective impacts of the two parameters predicting detection (incorrect surface and correction time), along with the underlying physiological processes subtending partial-error detection, are discussed.

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