Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Feedback-related negativity (FRN) is an ERP component that distinguishes positive from negative feedback. FRN has been hypothesized to be the product of an error signal that may be used to adjust future behavior. In addition, associative learning models assume that the trial-to-trial learning of cue–outcome mappings involves the minimization of an error term. This study evaluated whether FRN is a possible electrophysiological correlate of this error term in a predictive learning task where human subjects were asked to learn different cue–outcome relationships. Specifically, we evaluated the sensitivity of the FRN to the course of learning when different stimuli interact or compete to become a predictor of certain outcomes. Importantly, some of these cues were blocked by more informative or predictive cues (i.e., the blocking effect). Interestingly, the present results show that both learning and blocking affect the amplitude of the FRN component. Furthermore, independent analyses of positive and negative feedback event-related signals showed that the learning effect was restricted to the ERP component elicited by positive feedback. The blocking test showed differences in the FRN magnitude between a predictive and a blocked cue. Overall, the present results show that ERPs that are related to feedback processing correspond to the main predictions of associative learning models.