Predictive error processing distinguishes between relevant and irrelevant errors after visuomotor learning
Error processing is an important aspect of learning. The detection and online correction of an error as well as error-based adaptation of subsequent movements enables humans to improve behavior. For this improvement, it is necessary to differentiate between relevant and irrelevant errors. Behavioral adaptations are only reasonable when an error is ... attributed to one´s own behavior and therefore regarded as relevant for subsequent adjustments, whereas irrelevant errors caused by unsystematic external influences should be disregarded. Here, we ask whether error predictions as indexed by the error-related negativity (Ne/ERN) can be used to differentiate relevant and irrelevant errors in movements with a complex visuomotor mapping. Using event-related potentials, we compared the neural activation between relevant (self-induced/internal) errors and irrelevant (externally manipulated) errors in a virtual goal-oriented throwing task. Results show that the Ne/ERN responds more strongly to self-induced errors, while the feedback-related negativity (FRN) more strongly correlates with externally manipulated errors. Moreover, subsequent behavioral adjustments were larger in the relevant compared to the irrelevant error trials. We conclude that predictive processes, marked by the Ne/ERN, can subserve error attribution in naturalistic, complex visuomotor tasks like throwing.