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The feedback negativity reflects favorable compared to nonfavorable outcomes based on global, not local, alternatives


  • This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health under Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award F31 MH09530701 to Autumn Kujawa.

Address correspondence to: Autumn Kujawa, Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-2500. E-mail:


The feedback negativity (FN) has been shown to reflect the binary evaluation of possible outcomes in a context-dependent manner, but it is unclear whether context dependence is based on global or local alternatives. A cued gambling task was used to examine whether the FN is sensitive to possible outcomes on a given trial, or the range of outcomes across trials. On 50% of trials, participants could break even or lose money; on remaining trials, participants could win or break even. Breaking even was an unfavorable outcome relative to all possibilities in the current task, but the best possible outcome on 50% of trials. Results indicated that breaking even elicited an FN in both contexts, and reward feedback was uniquely associated with an enhanced positivity. Results suggest that the magnitude of the FN depends on all possible outcomes within the current task and are consistent with the view that the FN reflects reward-related neural activity.