Directing attention to task-relevant stimuli is crucial for successful task performance, but too much attentional selectivity implies that new and unexpected information in the environment remains undetected. A possible mechanism for optimizing this fundamental trade-off could be an error monitoring system that immediately triggers attentional adjustments following the detection of behavioral errors. However, the existence of rapid adaptive post-error adjustments has been controversially debated. While preconscious error processing reflected by an error-related negativity (Ne/ERN) in the event-related potential has been shown to occur within milliseconds after errors, more recent studies concluded that error detection even impairs attentional selectivity and that adaptive adjustments are implemented, if at all, only after errors are consciously detected. Here, we employ steady-state visual evoked potentials elicited by continuously presented stimuli to precisely track the emergence of error-induced attentional adjustments. Our results indicate that errors lead to an immediate reallocation of attention towards task-relevant stimuli, which occurs simultaneously with the Ne/ERN. Single-trial variation of this adjustment was correlated with the Ne/ERN amplitude and predicted adaptive behavioral adjustments on the post-error trial. This suggests that early error monitoring in the medial frontal cortex is directly involved in eliciting adaptive attentional adjustments.
- cognitive control
- error monitoring
- event-related potentials
- selective attention
- steady-state visual evoked potentials