Research Topic

Error Awareness – Insights from Cognitive Neuroscience, Psychiatry and Neurology

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Everyone who has accidentally poured salt into their coffee instead of sugar and has noticed this only upon drinking is aware of the fundamental difference between aware and unaware errors. Whereas aware errors are consciously perceived upon their commission, unaware errors do not cross the threshold of ...

Everyone who has accidentally poured salt into their coffee instead of sugar and has noticed this only upon drinking is aware of the fundamental difference between aware and unaware errors. Whereas aware errors are consciously perceived upon their commission, unaware errors do not cross the threshold of conscious perception (and might only be noticed retrospectively when their sometimes unpleasant consequences are experienced). Performance monitoring is a key element of human goal-directed behaviour. Detection of performance errors can lead to behavioural modifications in order to reach a desired goal. The question arises whether these error detections need to become conscious in order to allow behavioural modifications. To answer these questions it is necessary to separate aware from unaware errors. While having participants report the awareness of an error is trivial, setting up an experiment that generates a sufficient number of unaware errors is far from trivial. In this Research Topic we will therefore provide a short overview over the history of research on error awareness and the different paradigms used.

Error processing is not limited to changes in brain activity – there are also changes in the autonomic nervous system. Previous studies have shown that pupil diameter, skin conductance response and heart rate are peripheral markers for error processing. These autonomic reactions might either help us to become aware of an error or might represent a consequence of the error becoming aware. Thus, one key question is what comes first: conscious detection of an error or the autonomic reaction?

Since the error processing system is complex, influencing factors can be manifold: from psychiatric illnesses disturbing relevant transmitter systems to structural changes after traumatic brain injury or stroke. One key symptom of major psychiatric and neurologic diseases is unawareness with respect to cognitive or bodily deficits. Is this type of unawareness related to impaired conscious error perception, and does it affect behavioural adaptations following errors?

The aim of the Research Topic is to provide an overview over the current research in error awareness. It aims at widening the angle on its topic by including contributions from cognitive neuroscience, psychiatry, and neurology. Furthermore, linking error awareness to awareness of bodily states seems highly necessary. The brain architecture involved in providing interoceptive awareness will therefore be discussed. One key structure in human interoceptive awareness is the insular cortex. Special emphasize will be put on the anatomy and pathology of this structure.


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