Missing the Target: the Neural Processing Underlying the Omission Error
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The omissions are infrequent errors consisting in missing responses to the target stimuli. This is the first study aimed at investigating the brain activities associated with omissions in a decision-making task. We recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) in 12 subjects which reported a suitable number of omissions in a visual go/no-go task. We investigated both the pre- and post-stimulus brain activities associated with correct and omitted trials. The electrical neuroimaging technique (BESA) was adopted to extract the anterior insula (aIns) activity associated with the prefrontal P2 component (pP2) peaking about 300 ms after the stimulus and reflecting the stimulus–response mapping process. We found that omissions were predicted by a delayed onset (about half a second) of two pre-stimulus components, i.e. the prefrontal negativity (pN) and the Bereitschaftspotential (BP) associated with the top-down control and the motor preparation, respectively. Further, at the post-stimulus stage the omission trials were characterized by the suppression of the pP2 (and the aIns activity as measured by BESA). No differences between omission and correct trials were detected at the level of the P1 and N1 visual components, as well as the P3. These findings would suggest that omissions are attentional lapsebased errors, as indicated by the delayed brain preparation before the stimulus onset. The reduced cortical activity during the preparation phase did not affect the visual processing; in contrast the stimulus categorization process at the level of the anterior insula did not start at all, resulting in the inability to reach a decision.
KeywordsERPs Prefrontal negativity (pN) Bereitschaftspotential (BP) Prefrontal P2 (pP2) Anterior insula Omission error
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in this study were approved by the Ethics Committee of the Santa Lucia Foundation and were in accordance with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
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