The error-related negativity as a state and trait measure: Motivation, personality, and ERPs in response to errors


  • This research was funded in part by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to the second author. The authors would like to thank Sheila Lawson and James Desjardin for their assistance in collecting these data, and three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments. We are also indebted to Dr. Michael Ashton for his advice regarding personality measures, and Dr. Michael Falkenstein for discussions on error negativities.

Address reprint requests to: Sidney J. Segalowitz, Department of Psychology, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, L2S 3A1 Canada. E-mail:


This study examines changes in the error-related negativity (ERN/Ne) related to motivational incentives and personality traits. ERPs were gathered while adults completed a four-choice letter task during four motivational conditions. Monetary incentives for finger and hand accuracy were altered across motivation conditions to either be equal or favor one type of accuracy over the other in a 3:1 ratio. Larger ERN/Ne amplitudes were predicted with increased incentives, with personality moderating this effect. Results were as expected: Individuals higher on conscientiousness displayed smaller motivation-related changes in the ERN/Ne. Similarly, those low on neuroticism had smaller effects, with the effect of Conscientiousness absent after accounting for Neuroticism. These results emphasize an emotional/evaluative function for the ERN/Ne, and suggest that the ability to selectively invest in error monitoring is moderated by underlying personality.