Which way do i go? neural activation in response to feedback and spatial processing in a virtual t-maze

Travis E. Baker, Clay B. Holroyd

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


In 2 human event-related brain potential (ERP) experiments, we examined the feedback error-related negativity (fERN), an ERP component associated with reward processing by the midbrain dopamine system, and the N170, an ERP component thought to be generated by the medial temporal lobe (MTL), to investigate the contributions of these neural systems toward learning to find rewards in a "virtual T-maze" environment. We found that feedback indicating the absence versus presence of a reward differentially modulated fERN amplitude, but only when the outcome was not predicted by an earlier stimulus. By contrast, when a cue predicted the reward outcome, then the predictive cue (and not the feedback) differentially modulated fERN amplitude. We further found that the spatial location of the feedback stimuli elicited a large N170 at electrode sites sensitive to right MTL activation and that the latency of this component was sensitive to the spatial location of the reward, occurring slightly earlier for rewards following a right versus left turn in the maze. Taken together, these results confirm a fundamental prediction of a dopamine theory of the fERN and suggest that the dopamine and MTL systems may interact in navigational learning tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1708-1722
Number of pages15
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


  • Event-related brain potentials
  • Feedback error-related negativity
  • Medial temporal lobe
  • Midbrain dopamine system
  • N170
  • Reinforcement learning
  • Virtual T-maze

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