The way of our errors: Theme and variations


  • This article is based on the presidential address to the Society for Psychophysiological Research, Savannah, Georgia, October 20, 2007.
    The work described here was begun in 2000 and does not, therefore, include contributions from many valued colleagues and graduate students that came before. I acknowledge them here nonetheless. For psychophysiological espaliering, friendship, and support, I am grateful to a number of SPR's past-presidents, including Peter Lang, David and Frances Graham, Arne Öhman, Niels Birbaumer, Mike Coles, Dick Jennings, Mike Dawson, Bob Levenson, Manny Donchin, Greg Miller, Bruce Cuthbert, and Margaret Bradley. I am grateful to previous graduate students Sandy Rose, Barbara Giardina, Mike Zelson, Mark Miles, Bill Perlstein, Evelyn Fiorito, Lee Fitzgibbons, Arti Nigam, and Tom Roedema, but special thanks goes to the students who have been the backbone of the line of research presented here from its beginning, Greg Hajcak and Jason Moser, and to Jason Krompinger, Damion Grasso, and Emily Stanley, the students who will now move it forward. I would also like to thank our colleagues Edna Foa, Marty Franklin, and Jonathan Huppert at the University of Pennsylvania for providing us space, training, patients, and a great collaboration. Finally, I would like to thank my friend and University of Delaware colleaque Caroll Izard for his career-long support and encouragement and for his many tips and suggestions that have found their way into our research and eventually into this article.
    This research was supported in part by predoctoral fellowships from the National Institute of Mental Health to Greg Hajcak (MH069047) and Jason Moser (MH077388) and NIMH grants to the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety (CTSA; R01MH055126 to M.E. Franklin and K23MH064491 to J. Huppert) at the University of Pennsylvania.

Address reprint requests to: Robert F. Simons, Department of Psychology, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716. E-mail:


Negative feedback, either internal or external, is a fundamental guide to human learning and performance. The neural system that underlies the monitoring of performance and the adjustment of behavior has been subject to multiple neuroimaging investigations that uniformly implicate the anterior cingulate cortex and other prefrontal structures as crucial to these executive functions. The present article describes a series of experiments that employed event-related potentials to study a variety of processes associated with internal or external feedback. Three medial-frontal negativities (error-related negativity, correct-response negativity, feedback-related negativity) are highlighted, each of which plays an important role in the monitoring and dynamic adjustment of behavior. Extensions of basic research on these ERPs to questions relevant to clinical-science are also provided.