The Processing of Unexpected Positive Response Outcomes in the Mediofrontal Cortex
Nicola K. Ferdinand, Axel Mecklinger, Jutta Kray, and William J. Gehring
J. Neurosci. 2012;32 12087-12092
The human mediofrontal cortex, especially the anterior cingulate cortex, is commonly assumed to contribute to higher cognitive functions like performance monitoring. How exactly this is achieved is currently the subject of lively debate but there is evidence that an event's valence and its expectancy play important roles. One prominent theory, the reinforcement learning theory by Holroyd and colleagues (2002, 2008), assigns a special role to feedback valence, while the prediction of response–outcome (PRO) model by Alexander and Brown (2010, 2011) claims that the mediofrontal cortex is sensitive to unexpected events regardless of their valence. However, paradigms examining this issue have included confounds that fail to separate valence and expectancy.
In the present study, we tested the two competing theories of performance monitoring by using an experimental task that separates valence and unexpectedness of performance feedback. The feedback-related negativity of the event-related potential, which is commonly assumed to be a reflection of mediofrontal cortex activity, was elicited not only by unexpected negative feedback, but also by unexpected positive feedback. This implies that the mediofrontal cortex is sensitive to the unexpectedness of events in general rather than their valence and by this supports the PRO model.