Strategic control and medial frontal negativity: Beyond errors and response conflict


  • Bruce D. Bartholow is now with the Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia. Melanie A. Pearson is now with the School of Public Health, Emory University.

  • Support for this research was provided by Grants P50 AA11998 and R01 AA7231 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. We thank Mike Coles for helpful comments on early drafts of this article and Leighann Wieman for assistance with data collection.

Address reprint requests to: Bruce D. Bartholow, Department of Psychological Sciences, 10 McAlester Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211, USA. E-mail:; or to Gabriele Gratton, Beckman Institute, 405 N. Mathews Ave., Urbana, IL 61801, USA; e-mail:


Errors in timed choice tasks typically produce an error-related negativity (ERN) in the event-related potential (ERP). The error specificity of the ERN has been challenged by studies showing a correct response negativity (CRN). Forty-five participants engaged in a flanker task in which both compatibility between flankers and target and the probability of compatible flankers were manipulated. Correct responses elicited a CRN, the amplitude of which increased with the degree of mismatch between the presence of conflict and conflict probability, even on low-conflict (compatible) trials. The fronto-central N2 component was larger on high-conflict (incompatible) correct response trials. However, in contrast to some recent accounts, this N2 was largest for highly probable stimuli. These findings suggest revision to models of the effects of conflict on response-related negativity to account for strategic adjustments made in preparation for the response.