Dynamic neural correlates of motor error monitoring and adaptation during trial-to-trial learning.
Tan H., Jenkinson N., Brown P.
A basic EEG feature upon voluntary movements in healthy human subjects is a β (13-30 Hz) band desynchronization followed by a postmovement event-related synchronization (ERS) over contralateral sensorimotor cortex. The functional implications of these changes remain unclear. We hypothesized that, because β ERS follows movement, it may reflect the degree of error in that movement, and the salience of that error to the task at hand. As such, the signal might underpin trial-to-trial modifications of the internal model that informs future movements. To test this hypothesis, EEG was recorded in healthy subjects while they moved a joystick-controlled cursor to visual targets on a computer screen, with different rotational perturbations applied between the joystick and cursor. We observed consistently lower β ERS in trials with large error, even when other possible motor confounds, such as reaction time, movement duration, and path length, were controlled, regardless of whether the perturbation was random or constant. There was a negative trial-to-trial correlation between the size of the absolute initial angular error and the amplitude of the β ERS, and this negative correlation was enhanced when other contextual information about the behavioral salience of the angular error, namely, the bias and variance of errors in previous trials, was additionally considered. These same features also had an impact on the behavioral performance. The findings suggest that the β ERS reflects neural processes that evaluate motor error and do so in the context of the prior history of errors.