Impaired Error Monitoring and Correction Function in Autism


  • Estate Sokhadze
  • Joshua Baruth
  • Ayman El-Baz
  • Timothy Horrell
  • Guela Sokhadze
  • Thomas Carroll
  • Allan Tasman
  • Lonnie Sears
  • Manuel F. Casanova



Introduction. Error monitoring and correction is one of the executive functions and is important for effective goal-directed behavior. Deficient executive functioning, including reduced error monitoring ability, is one of the typical features of such neurodevelopmental disorders as autism, probably related to perseverative responding, stereotyped repetitive behaviors, and an inability to accurately monitor ongoing behavior. Our prior studies of behavioral and event-related potential measures during performance on visual oddball tasks in high-functioning autistic (HFA) children showed that despite only minor differences in reaction times (RTs) HFA children committed significantly more errors. Method. This study investigated error monitoring in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with response-locked event-related potentials—the error-related negativity (ERN) and error-related positivity (Pe) recorded at fronto-central sites. The ERN reflects early error detection processes, whereas the Pe has been associated with later conscious error evaluation and attention reallocation. RTs in correct trials and posterror slowing in RTs were measured. In this study 14 participants with ASD and 14 age- and IQ-matched controls received a three-category visual oddball task with novel distracters. Results. ERN had a lower amplitude and longer latency in the ASD group but was localized in the caudal part of anterior cingulate cortex in both groups. The Pe component was significantly prolonged in the ASD group but did not reach significance in amplitude differences compared to controls. We found significant posterror slowing in RTs in controls and posterror acceleration in RTs in the ASD group. Conclusion. The reduced ERN and altered Pe along with a lack of posterror RT slowing in autism might be interpreted as insensitivity in the detection and monitoring of response errors and a reduced ability of execute corrective actions. This might result in reduced error awareness and failure in adjustment when dealing with situations where erroneous responses may occur. This deficit might be manifested in the perseverative behaviors often seen in individuals with ASD. The results are discussed in terms of a general impairment in self-monitoring and other executive functions underlying behavioral and social disturbances in ASD.