Surprisingly correct: Unexpectedness of observed actions activates the medial prefrontal cortex



Not only committing errors, but also observing errors has been shown to activate the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, particularly BA 8 and adjacent rostral cingulate zone (RCZ). Currently, there is a debate on whether this activity reflects a response to the incorrectness of the committed action or to its unexpectedness. This article reports two studies investigating whether activity in BA 8/RCZ is due to the unexpectedness of observed errors or the incorrectness of the specific observed action. Both studies employed an action observation paradigm reliant on the observation of an actor tying sailing knots. The reported behavioral experiment delivered evidence that the paradigm successfully induced the expectation of incorrect actions as well as the expectation of correct actions. The functional magnetic resonance imaging study revealed that unexpectedly correct as well as unexpectedly incorrect actions activate the BA 8/RCZ. The same result was confirmed for a coordinate in the vicinity that has been previously reported to be activated in separate studies either by the error observation or by the unexpectedness of committed errors, and has been associated with the error-related negativity. The present results suggest that unexpectedness has an impact on the medial prefrontal correlate of observed errors. Hum Brain Mapp 35:1615–1629, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.