A summary on reward processing in psychophysiology

Dan Foti, Anna Weinberg, Reward and feedback processing: State of the field, best practices, and future directions, International Journal of Psychophysiology, Volume 132, Part B, 2018, Pages 171-174, DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2018.08.006.

There is a long history of studies using event-related potentials (ERPs) to examine how the brain monitors performance. Many initial studies focused on error processing, both internal (i.e., neural activity elicited by error commission) (Falkenstein et al., 1991; Gehring et al., 1993) and external (i.e. neural activity elicited by feedback indicating an unfavorable outcome) (Gehring and Willoughby, 2002; Miltner et al., 1997). A frequent assumption in this line of research has been that correct performance and favorable outcomes served as reference conditions, and that any effects on ERP amplitudes specifically reflected error processing. This starting premise is at odds with the large human and animal neuroscience literatures on reward processing, which focus on the motivated pursuit of said favorable outcomes. In fact, reward and error processing are intrinsically linked, and both undergird effective task performance: the brain is highly sensitive to events that are better or worse than expected in order to continuously modulate behavior in line with task goals (Holroyd and Coles, 2002). In recent years, the ERP literature on feedback processing has broadened to explicitly incorporate reward processing, thereby enriching traditional studies focused on error processing. Specific developments in this regard include an expanded focus on multiple stages of reward processing (e.g., anticipation versus outcome), charting the development of reward processing across the lifespan, and the examination of aberrant sensitivity to reward in psychiatric illnesses. While these advances are highly promising, the general ERP literature on feedback processing continues to be fragmented with regard to terminology, analytic techniques, task designs, and interpretation of findings, ultimately limiting progress in the field.

The overarching goal of this special issue was to carefully examine the state of the art in our current understanding of feedback processing. The aim was to provide an integrative overview that covers multiple theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches. Consideration has been given in this collection of articles to both basic and applied research topics, and throughout the special issue there is an emphasis on providing specific recommendations for study design and the identification of important future research directions. In the remainder of this introductory editorial, we set the stage for these articles by highlighting complementary results and points of intersection across four themes: integrating perspectives on reward and error processing; experimental manipulations, psychometrics, and individual differences.

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