Error-preceding brain activity reflects (mal-)adaptive adjustments of cognitive control: A modeling study

Research Area: Research Year: 2012
Type of Publication: Article Keywords: conflict monitoring, connectionist modeling, event-related potentials, N2
Authors: Steinhauser, M.; Eichele, Heike; Juvodden, H.T.; Huster, R.J.; Ullsperger, M.; Eichele, Tom
Errors in choice tasks are preceded by gradual changes in brain activity presumably related to fluctuations in cognitive control that promote the occurrence of errors. In the present paper, we use connectionist modeling to explore the hypothesis that these fluctuations reflect (mal-)adaptive adjustments of cognitive control. We considered ERP data from a study in which the probability of conflict in an Eriksen flanker task was manipulated in sub-blocks of trials. Errors in these data were preceded by a gradual decline of N2 amplitude. After fitting a connectionist model of conflict adaptation to the data, we analyzed simulated N2 amplitude, simulated response times and stimulus history preceding errors in the model, and found that the model produced the same pattern as obtained in the empirical data. Moreover, this pattern is not found in alternative models in which cognitive control varies randomly or in an oscillating manner. Our simulations suggest that the decline of N2 amplitude preceding errors reflects an increasing adaptation of cognitive control to specific task demands, which leads to an error when these task demands change. Taken together, these results provide evidence that error-preceding brain activity can reflect adaptive adjustments rather than unsystematic fluctuations of cognitive control, and therefore, that these errors are actually a consequence of the adaptiveness of human cognition.
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