The Neural Equivalent of “DOH!”

by F.

I came across a press release from CU on some OCD research done last year. According to the lead author of the paper, Michael Frank

Patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder are thought to have a dysfunctional error-monitoring system and hyperactive anterior cingulate, as if their brain is always telling them that they are making mistakes, so they repetitively perform corrective actions to try to reduce the error signals….

In the study, Frank et al

attached electrodes to people’s heads and recorded their brain signals while they performed tasks. They found that the tendency to pay more attention to mistakes was predicted by a signal coming from a section of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex….

This signal is called the “ERN signal.” ERN stands for “error related negativity.” The ERN signal

can be thought of as the neural equivalent of TV character Homer Simpson’s ‘Doh!’, and was observed after people made mistakes in a computerized learning game, Frank said. But unlike Homer, people with large ERN signals actually learned more from their mistakes than those with small ERNs, who were better at learning from correct choices, he said.

Cite: Frank, M.J., Woroch, B.S., & Curran, T (2005). Error-Related Negativity Predicts Reinforcement Learning and Conflict Biases. Neuron 47, 495-501.