Effects of motivation on error processing: Controversy and integration
2024, 32 (1):
Errors are annoying and threatening. How to effectively monitor errors and adjust behaviors is important for one's goal achievement and social adaptation. Error processing is a high-level cognitive process that detects the occurrence of errors and makes subsequent adjustments. It can be characterized by brain activations (e.g., anterior cingulate cortex, ACC; dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, dlPFC), behavioral indicators (e.g., post-error accuracy, post-error slowing), and electroencephalogram (EEG) components (e.g., error-related negativity, ERN; error positive, Pe). Numerous studies have shown that motivation (e.g., reward, punishment, etc.) can affect error processing, but the findings are inconsistent.
Related Articles |
By comparing previous studies, we propose that factors such as age, gender, experimental design (e.g., task paradigms, motivation manipulations, trial-by-trial feedback, etc.), personality (e.g., neuroticism, conscientiousness, reward and punishment sensitivity, etc.) and culture (e.g., collectivist vs. individualist) may affect the relationship between motivation and error processing. Integrating them together, we further propose that task relevance could serve as a potential joint mechanism for these effects, that is, in tasks that are highly relevant to individual goals (i.e., motivation is highly tied to error consequences), error processing would be enhanced (e.g., heightened ERN/Pe amplitude) when one's motivation is stronger; but in low relevant tasks (i.e., motivation is less tied to error consequences), the motivational effects on error processing would be weaker (e.g., motivation may fail to enhance, or even decrease ERN/Pe amplitude).
Within this theoretical framework, the above factors may moderate the relationship between motivation and error processing by affecting task relevance. For example, cultural factors may moderate the relationship between motivation and error processing through the mechanism of task relevance. For instance, Europeans and Americans may pay greater attention to self-relevant contexts and ignore other-relevant contexts compared to Asians, resulting in differences in attentional engagement in subsequent error processing tasks and differences in ERN amplitude. In social-evaluative threat situations, collectivist may be more sensitive to social threats and prone to associate errors with personal status and "face". This could strengthen the correlation between social evaluation motivation and error consequences, thereby enhancing error monitoring. In addition, gender and culture may interact to influence task relevance, thereby influencing the relationship between motivation and error processing. For instance, in social-evaluative threat situations, women (who are prone to form interdependent self-construal) may exhibit higher sensitivity to social errors (i.e., heightened task relevance) than men (who are prone to form independent self-construal), resulting in stronger error monitoring when motivation level increases. This new viewpoint may contribute to explaining the complex relationship between motivation and error processing.
Future research should first empirically examine the moderating effects of the above factors and task relevance. Second, future research may explore the impact of motivation on different types of errors (e.g., unaware errors vs. aware errors). This is meaningful because some studies have shown that error types can affect error monitoring and post-error adjustment strategies, and the motivational effects can differ in reaction time of aware and unaware errors. Therefore, the motivational effects on error processing may also be affected by different types of errors. Third, it is also interesting to separate endogenous and exogenous motivations to explore their distinct influences on error processing. For example, one can explore the motivational function of error itself, that is, like surprise, error itself may have motivational function on subsequent error processing, which can be different to that induced by the exogenous motivation (e.g., reward, punishment). Last, future research can explore how motivational and cognitive factors may interact to affect error processing, and whether cognitive ability differences (e.g., attentional capacity, working memory capacity) can explain the inconsistent effects of motivation on error processing. We believe these measures would help advance the motivational theory of error processing.