Frontal cortical effects on feedback processing and reinforcement learning: Relation of EEG asymmetry with the feedback-related negativity and behavior

Petra C. Schmid, Leor M. Hackel, Lee Jasperse, David M. Amodio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Reinforcement learning refers to the acquisition of approach or avoidance action tendencies through repeated reward/nonreward feedback. Although much research on reinforcement learning has focused on the striatum, the prefrontal cortex likely modulates this process. Given prior research demonstrating a consistent pattern of lateralized frontal cortical activity in affective responses and approach/avoidance tendencies in the EEG literature, we aimed to elucidate the role of frontal EEG asymmetry in reinforcement learning. Thirty-two participants completed a probabilistic selection task in which they learned to select some targets and avoid others though correct/incorrect feedback. EEG indices of frontal cortical asymmetry were computed from alpha power recorded at baseline and during task completion. We also examined the feedback-related negativity ERP component to assess feedback processing associated with activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. Results revealed that greater right-lateralized frontal cortical activity during learning was associated with better avoidance learning, but neither left- nor right-sided asymmetry reliably related to approach learning. Results also suggested that left frontal activity may relate to reinforcement feedback processing, as indicated by the feedback-related negativity (FRN). These findings offer preliminary evidence regarding the role of frontal cortical activity in reinforcement learning while integrating classic and contemporary research on lateralized frontal cortical functions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12911
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018



  • EEG
  • FRN
  • asymmetry
  • frontal cortex
  • learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry

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