A domain-general perspective on medial frontal brain activity during performance monitoring
van Noordt, Stefon
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Activity of the medial frontal cortex (MFC) has been implicated in attention regulation and performance monitoring. The MFC is thought to generate several event-related potential (ERPs) components, known as medial frontal negativities (MFNs), that are elicited when a behavioural response becomes difficult to control (e.g., following an error or shifting from a frequently executed response). The functional significance of MFNs has traditionally been interpreted in the context of the paradigm used to elicit a specific response, such as errors. In a series of studies, we consider the functional similarity of multiple MFC brain responses by designing novel performance monitoring tasks and exploiting advanced methods for electroencephalography (EEG) signal processing and robust estimation statistics for hypothesis testing. In study 1, we designed a response cueing task and used Independent Component Analysis (ICA) to show that the latent factors describing a MFN to stimuli that cued the potential need to inhibit a response on upcoming trials also accounted for medial frontal brain responses that occurred when individuals made a mistake or inhibited an incorrect response. It was also found that increases in theta occurred to each of these task events, and that the effects were evident at the group level and in single cases. In study 2, we replicated our method of classifying MFC activity to cues in our response task and showed again, using additional tasks, that error commission, response inhibition, and, to a lesser extent, the processing of performance feedback all elicited similar changes across MFNs and theta power. In the final study, we converted our response cueing paradigm into a saccade cueing task in order to examine the oscillatory dynamics of response preparation. We found that, compared to easy pro-saccades, successfully preparing a difficult anti-saccadic response was characterized by an increase in MFC theta and the suppression of posterior alpha power prior to executing the eye movement. These findings align with a large body of literature on performance monitoring and ERPs, and indicate that MFNs, along with their signature in theta power, reflects the general process of controlling attention and adapting behaviour without the need to induce error commission, the inhibition of responses, or the presentation of negative feedback.