Prelude to and resolution of an error: EEG phase synchrony reveals cognitive control dynamics during action monitoring

James F. Cavanagh, Michael X. Cohen, John J.B. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

498 Scopus citations


Error-related activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is thought to work in conjunction with lateral prefrontal cortex (lPFC) as a part of an action-monitoring network, where errors signal the need for increased cognitive control. The neural mechanism by which this mPFC-lPFC interaction occurs remains unknown. We hypothesized that transient synchronous oscillations in the theta range reflect a mechanism by which these structures interact. To test this hypothesis, we extracted oscillatory phase and power from current-source- density-transformed electroencephalographic data recorded during a Flanker task. Theta power in the mPFC was diminished on the trial preceding an error and increased immediately after an error, consistent with predictions of an action-monitoring system. These power dynamics appeared to take place over a response-related background of oscillatory theta phase coherence. Theta phase synchronization between FCz (mPFC) and F5/6 (lPFC) sites was robustly increased during error trials. The degree of mPFC-lPFC oscillatory synchronization predicted the degree of mPFC power on error trials, and both of these dynamics predicted the degree of posterror reaction time slowing. Oscillatory dynamics in the theta band may in part underlie a mechanism of communication between networks involved in action monitoring and cognitive control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)98-105
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 7 2009


  • Cingulate
  • Cognitive
  • Connectivity
  • Human
  • Oscillator
  • Theta rhythm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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