Response monitoring, the error-related negativity, and differences in social behavior in autism

Heather Henderson, Caley Schwartz, Peter Mundy, Courtney Burnette, Steve Sutton, Nicole Zahka, Anne Pradella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Children with autism not only display social impairments but also significant individual differences in social development. Understanding the source of these differences, as well as the nature of social impairments, is important for improved diagnosis and treatments for these children. Current theory and research suggests that individual differences in response monitoring, a specific function of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), may contribute to social-emotional and social-cognitive impairments and individual differences in autism. To examine this hypothesis, we used a modified flanker task to assess an ERP index of response monitoring, the error-related negativity (ERN), in a sample of higher function children with autism (HFA) and an IQ-matched control sample. The results revealed a significant Diagnostic group by Verbal IQ interaction on ERN amplitude indicating that the most verbally capable HFA children displayed significantly larger ERN amplitudes than did the control children. Within the HFA sample, greater ERN amplitude was also related to parent reports of fewer symptoms of social interaction impairments, fewer internalizing problems, but more externalizing problems, although these associations were reduced to nonsignificance when medication status was controlled. The latter results complement previous observations from imaging studies of a significant association between ACC activity and social symptoms and impairments in autism. The implications of these results for future research on brain-behavior relations, as well as treatment related research with children with autism are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)96-109
Number of pages14
JournalBrain and Cognition
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Autism
  • Error-related negativity
  • Phenotypic variability
  • Response monitoring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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