What happens when right means wrong? The impact of conflict arising from competing feedback responses


Humans often rely on feedback to learn. Indeed, in learning the difference between feedback and an expected outcome is computed to inform future actions. Further, recent work has found that reward and feedback have a unique role in modulating conflict processing and cognitive control. However, it is still not clear how conflict, especially concerning the processing and evaluation of feedback, impacts learning. To address this, we examined the effects of feedback competition on feedback evaluation in a reinforcement learning task. Specifically, we had participants play a simple two-choice gambling game while electroencephalographic (EEG) data were recorded. On half of the experiment blocks, we reversed the meaning of performance feedback for each trial from its prepotent meaning to induce response conflict akin to the Stroop effect (e.g., ‘✓’ meant incorrect). Behaviourally, we found that participants’ accuracy was reduced as a result of incongruent feedback. Paralleling this, an analysis of our EEG revealed that incongruent feedback resulted in a reduction in amplitude of the reward positivity and the P300, components of the human event-related brain potential implicated in reward processing. Our results demonstrate the negative impact of conflict on feedback evaluation and the impact of this on subsequent performance.

Brain Research
Thomas Donald Ferguson
Thomas Donald Ferguson
Postdoctoral Researcher