Reiter, A. M., Koch, S. P., Schröger, E., Hinrichs, H., Heinze, H. J., Deserno, L., & Schlagenhauf, F. (2016). The Feedback-related Negativity Code Components of Abstract Inference during Reward-based Decision-making. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 1-12.

The Feedback-related Negativity Code Components of Abstract Inference during Reward-based Decision-making

Behavioral control is influenced not only by learning from the choices taken and the rewards obtained but also by "what might have happened," that is, inference about unchosen options and their fictive outcomes. Substantial progress was made in understanding the neural signatures of direct learning from choices that are actually made and their associated rewards via reward prediction errors (RPEs). However, electrophysiological correlates of abstract inference in decision-making are less clear. A seminal theory suggests that the so-called feedback-related negativity (FRN), an ERP peaking 200-300 msec after a feedback stimulus at frontocentral sites of the scalp, codes RPEs. Hitherto, the FRN has been predominantly related to a so-called "model-free" RPE: the difference between the observed outcome and what had been expected. Here, by means of computational modeling of choice behavior, we show that individuals employ abstract, "double-update" inference on the task structure by concurrently tracking values of chosen stimuli (associated with observed outcomes) and unchosen stimuli (linked to fictive outcomes). In a parametric analysis, model-free RPEs as well as their modification because of abstract inference were regressed against single-trial FRN amplitudes. We demonstrate that components related to abstract inference uniquely explain variance in the FRN beyond model-free RPEs. These findings advance our understanding of the FRN and its role in behavioral adaptation. This might further the investigation of disturbed abstract inference, as proposed, for example, for psychiatric disorders, and its underlying neural correlates.


Cognitive and Biological Psychology

University of Leipzig
Faculty of Life Sciences
Institute of Psychology
Neumarkt 9-19
D-04109 Leipzig


Dagmar Schrödl
Phone: +49 341 97-39570
Email: dagmar dot schroedl at uni-leipzig dot de

Dorit Thieme
Phone: +49 341 97-39540
Email: d dot thieme at uni-leipzig dot de

Fax: +49 341 97-39271