Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) has been shown to respond to conflict between simultaneously active, incompatible response tendencies. This area is active during high-conflict correct trials and also when participants make errors. Here, we use the temporal resolution of high-density event-related potentials (ERPs) in combination with source localization to investigate the timing of ACC activity during conflict and error detection. We predicted that the same area of the ACC is active prior to high-conflict correct responses and following erroneous responses. Dipole modeling supported this prediction: The frontocentral N2, occurring prior to the response on correct conflict trials, and the ERN, occurring immediately following error responses, could both be modeled as having a generator in the caudal ACC, suggesting the same process to underlie both peaks. Modeling further suggested that the rostral area of the ACC was also active following errors, but later in time, contributing to the error positivity (PE), and peaking at 200–250 msec following the ERN peak. Despite the inherent limitations of source localization, these data may begin to shed light on the timing of action-monitoring processes. First, the time course of caudal ACC activity follows the time course as predicted by the conflict theory of this region. Second, caudal ACC activity might be temporally dissociated from rostral ACC activity during error trials, which possibly reflects a separate, affective component of the evaluative functions of the ACC.