While humans typically detect the majority of their errors (aware errors), some errors go unnoticed (unaware errors). In real life, these unaware errors might have the most negative consequences. For example, accident investigations have shown that unaware errors have led to serious train, ship, and airplane accidents. In the lab, we study error awareness using behavioural as well as neuroimaging methods. We aim to better understand what characterises unaware errors, what factors influence the frequency of unaware errors, and how unaware errors could be avoided.
Individuals sometimes commit errors, but they usually intend to reduce the number of errors as much as possible. Accordingly, humans show behavioural and neural adjustments after errors (Danielmeier & Ullsperger, 2011), which presumably have the goal to prevent further errors. For example, people often slow down their reaction times after errors (post-error slowing), show improved performance (post-error improvement in accuracy) or increase selective attention to focus on task-relevant information (Danielmeier et al., 2011, 2015).
However, these post-error adjustments can be more or less pronounced and individuals do not always manage to reduce their error rate after suboptimal performance. Therefore, it is still under discussion if post-error adjustments mainly reflect functionally relevant adaptive behaviour or if they mainly reflect mal-adaptive processes, such as slowing down due to surprise, but not necessarily to improve (Ullsperger & Danielmeier, 2016).
In the lab, we aim to identify the factors that determine the extent and adaptiveness of post-error adjustments. In addition to healthy young participants, we investigate post-error adaptations in patients with mental health disorders.
We have also started to investigate how people learn from errors. We are specifically interested in functional interactions between the posterior medial frontal cortex and (para-)hippocampal areas. The posterior medial frontal cortex has been associated with performance monitoring functions (error and conflict detection) and seems to drive post-error adjustments. It is anatomically connected to hippocampal areas which are involved in learning and memory. By using computational models and functional neuroimaging, we investigate the dynamic interactions of medial frontal and hippocampal areas when learning from errors.