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Theta lingua franca: A common mid-frontal substrate for action monitoring processes


  • This work was supported the National Institute of Mental Health (F31MH082560 to J.F.C.), and by infrastructure provided by the National Institute of Mental Health (R01MH066902 to J.J.B.A.). The authors thank Alhondra Felix and Katie Yeager for help working with participants and Thomas Wiecki for help implementing the parallelization of the permutation tests, and they appreciate the contribution of the editor Stephan Debener and three anonymous reviewers who helped the development of this article.

Address correspondence to: James F. Cavanagh, Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences, Brown University, 229 Waterman St., Room 102, Providence, RI 02906, USA. E-mail:


We present evidence that a multitude of mid-frontal event-related potential (ERP) components partially reflect a common theta band oscillatory process. Specifically, mid-frontal ERP components in the N2 time range and error-related negativity time range are parsimoniously characterized as reflections of theta band activities. Forty participants completed three different tasks with varying stimulus–response demands. Permutation tests were used to identify the dominant time–frequency responses of stimulus- and response-locked conditions as well as the enhanced responses to novelty, conflict, punishment, and error. A dominant theta band feature was found in all conditions, and both ERP component amplitudes and theta power measures were similarly modulated by novelty, conflict, punishment, and error. The findings support the hypothesis that generic and reactive medial prefrontal cortex processes are parsimoniously reflected by theta band activities.