Heart work after errors: Behavioral adjustment following error commission involves cardiac effort

Iris M. Spruit, Tom F. Wilderjans, Henk van Steenbergen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Posterror slowing (PES) is the observation that people respond slower on trials subsequent to error commissions than on trials subsequent to correct responses. Different accounts have been proposed to explain PES. On the one hand, it has been suggested that PES arises from an adaptive increase in cognitive control following error commission, thereby making people more cautious after making an error. On the other hand, PES has been attributed to an orienting response, indicating that attention is shifted toward the error. In the present study we tested these accounts by investigating the effects of error commission in both flanker and switch tasks on two task-evoked cardiac measures: the interbeat interval—that is, the interval between two consecutive R peaks—and the RZ interval—that is, the interval between the R peak and the Z point—as measured using electro- and impedance cardiography, respectively. These measures allowed us to measure cardiac deceleration (autonomic orienting) and cardiac effort mobilization, respectively. Our results revealed a shorter RZ interval during posterror trials, indicating increased effort mobilization following errors. In addition, we replicated earlier studies that have shown cardiac slowing during error trials. However, multilevel analyses showed that only the posterror decrease in RZ interval predicted posterror reaction times, whereas there was no positive relationship between error-related cardiac deceleration and posterror reaction times. Our results suggest that PES is related to increased cardiac effort, supporting a cognitive-control account of PES.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375-388
Number of pages14
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Cardiac measures
  • Cognitive control
  • Effort
  • Errors
  • Heart rate
  • Orienting response
  • Pre-ejection period
  • RZ interval


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