High-Learners Present Larger Mid-Frontal Theta Power and Connectivity in Response to Incorrect Performance Feedback
A crucial aspect of cognitive control and learning is the ability to integrate feedback, that is, to evaluate action outcomes and their deviations from the intended goals and to adjust behavior accordingly. However, how high-learners differ from low-learners in relation to feedback processing has not been characterized. Further, little is known about the underlying brain connectivity patterns during feedback processing. This study aimed to fill these gaps by analyzing electrical brain responses from healthy adult human participants while they performed a time estimation task with correct and incorrect feedback. As compared with low-learners, high-learners presented larger mid-frontal theta (4–8 Hz) oscillations and lower sensorimotor beta (17–24 Hz) oscillations in response to incorrect feedback. Further, high-learners showed larger theta connectivity from left central, associated with motor activity, to mid-frontal, associated with performance monitoring, immediately after feedback (0–0.3 s), followed by (from 0.3 to 0.6 s after feedback) a flux from mid-frontal to prefrontal, associated with executive functioning. We suggest that these results reflect two cognitive processes related to successful feedback processing: first, the obtained feedback is compared with the expected one, and second, the feedback history is updated based on this information. Our results also indicate that high- and low-learners differ not only on how they react to incorrect feedback, but also in relation to how their distant brain areas interact while processing both correct and incorrect feedback. This study demonstrates the neural underpinnings of individual differences in goal-directed adaptive behavior.