Making mistakes in public: Being observed magnifies physiological responses to errors

Changrun Huang, Rongjun Yu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


As social beings, humans often find themselves in situations in which they are required to act against the backdrop of public observation. In these situations, the presence of observers may influence how we evaluate feedback and learn from it. The neural basis of such observer-induced behavioral changes is not well understood at present. In the current study, we used event-related potentials (ERPs) and event-related spectral perturbations (ERSPs) combined with a gambling task to examine how the presence of others modulates the neural representations of errors and losses. In the alone condition, participants finished the gambling task alone while in the observed condition, they were observed by two others. Results revealed that the observer effect particularly altered the feedback-related negativity (FRN) and the late positive potential (LPP). The difference in FRN amplitude between error and correct feedback was enlarged when participants were being observed. The LPP also showed a marginally enhanced amplitude difference between error and correct feedback in the observed condition. We also found that theta power was enhanced in the observed condition. Taken together, our findings suggest that neural representations of errors were influenced by the presence of others.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)214-222
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

User-Defined Keywords

  • Feedback-monitoring
  • Feedback-related negativity
  • Late positive potential
  • The observer effect
  • Theta power


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