The effect of sleepiness on performance monitoring: I know what I am doing, but do I care?


Tim Murphy, Psychology Department, Brock University, St Catharines, ON, Canada L2S 3A1. Tel.: +905 688 5550 ext 4639; fax: +905 688 6922; e-mail:


The behavioral, cognitive, and psychophysiological effects of extended wakefulness are well known. As time awake increases, errors become more common and are often attributed to lapses in attention. Such lapses can be reflected in the error-related negativity (Ne/ERN), a negative electroencephalogram deflection occurring after errors and is thought to be related to error detection or response conflict. Following the Ne/ERN, a positive deflection (error positivity, Pe) is also observed and is thought to reflect further evaluation of the error. To elicit Ne/ERNs, the Eriksen Flanker Task was administered to 17 women (aged 19–45 years) at two levels of alertness (4 and 20 h awake). After extended wakefulness, participants reported being subjectively sleepier and performing worse, but showed no significant difference in subjective effort. Across alertness conditions, they reported a similar number of subjective errors which closely matched an objective analysis of the errors. The Ne/ERN was not significantly reduced by sleepiness in contrast to the Pe which was reduced. Behavioral slowing after errors was larger in the alert than in the sleepy condition. These results show that after 20 h of wakefulness, individuals are reacting to their errors. However, further evaluation of the error, and remediation of these errors may be impaired despite continued effort.