Neuroimaging measures of error-processing: Extracting reliable signals from event-related potentials and functional magnetic resonance imaging

Vaughn R. Steele, Nathaniel E. Anderson, Eric D. Claus, Edward M. Bernat, Vikram Rao, Michal Assaf, Godfrey D. Pearlson, Vince D. Calhoun, Kent A. Kiehl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Error-related brain activity has become an increasingly important focus of cognitive neuroscience research utilizing both event-related potentials (ERPs) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Given the significant time and resources required to collect these data, it is important for researchers to plan their experiments such that stable estimates of error-related processes can be achieved efficiently. Reliability of error-related brain measures will vary as a function of the number of error trials and the number of participants included in the averages. Unfortunately, systematic investigations of the number of events and participants required to achieve stability in error-related processing are sparse, and none have addressed variability in sample size. Our goal here is to provide data compiled from a large sample of healthy participants (n = 180) performing a Go/NoGo task, resampled iteratively to demonstrate the relative stability of measures of error-related brain activity given a range of sample sizes and event numbers included in the averages. We examine ERP measures of error-related negativity (ERN/Ne) and error positivity (Pe), as well as event-related fMRI measures locked to False Alarms. We find that achieving stable estimates of ERP measures required four to six error trials and approximately 30 participants; fMRI measures required six to eight trials and approximately 40 participants. Fewer trials and participants were required for measures where additional data reduction techniques (i.e., principal component analysis and independent component analysis) were implemented. Ranges of reliability statistics for various sample sizes and numbers of trials are provided. We intend this to be a useful resource for those planning or evaluating ERP or fMRI investigations with tasks designed to measure error-processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-260
Number of pages14
StatePublished - May 15 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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