SPUR 2020: Measuring Cognitive Control and Response to Reward using Electroencephalography (EEG)


Each and every day, you make mistakes, and often you receive some sort of feedback in committing them. For example, when you swing a baseball bat, miss the ball, and hear the umpire yell “strike!”. While errors and feedback are common in everyday life, the neuroscience behind them, and especially the relationship between them, remains mysterious. The Applied Cognition Lab is seeking a further understanding of the relationship between error-processing and feedback reward-processing in the brain by studying the electrophysiological (EEG) correlates of each. The current project will specifically examine the error-related negativity, which reflects the error-processing system, and the reward positivity, which reflects reward-processing system. Both generated in the anterior cingulate cortex, the error-related negativity and reward positivity are historically thought to both be indicative of error processing and negative feedback about errors. However, more recent developments in electrophysiological research have found that the reward positivity is more likely driven by sensitivity to reward (positive feedback) than by sensitivity to errors. We would like to further explore the relationship between these two ERP components by looking at how they correlate with, or diverge from, each other depending on task demands and motivation. This research will give us a firmer understanding of cognitive control as it relates to processing both errors and rewards.

Student Role

Students can be expected to play a very hands-on role with this project. While much of the “conceptualization” stage of the project will already be complete, we would like our student to be involved in each stage of the project beyond that. Specifically, we will expect our student to be primarily responsible for the data collection portion of the study. This would involve recruiting participants, scheduling them to come into the lab, and collecting the EEG data while participants complete a series of cognitive tasks. After data collection is complete, we plan on having the student involved in the pre-processing of the EEG data, and the creation of the event-related potential plots. As the program requires, we expect that students will also present their work at the end of the summer, and will encourage students to submit their findings to the undergraduate research journal. Students can expect to gain extensive experience in EEG science- particularly in capping participants and learning the basics of Matlab.

Student Learning Outcomes & Benefits

This experience will be valuable for a student no matter what they choose in life. If the student wishes to go to graduate school, this sort of direct research experience will be crucial to the success of their application. We provide direct experience in measuring and understanding the human brain with EEG and other behavioral tools. If the student is interested in neuroscience, this experience will allow them to master the skills of collecting and processing EEG data. However, beyond simply research experience for graduate school, we believe that our lab fosters development in a number of skills that transfer beyond the research environment. Students will learn project management and organizational skills, the soft skills associated with conducting human research studies, and gain valuable computer skills such as coding in Matlab, R and Python. A deeper understanding of the scientific method, as well as how our brain’s attentional system works, will also aid them in their everyday lives and make them critical consumers of science.

David Strayer

College of Social & Behavioral Science

Logistically, the mentee can expect to work closely with both me and my graduate students, Sara LoTemplio and Amy McDonnell. This core research team will be available for weekly meeting with the student to assess progress and answer questions. Specific training on capping participants, Google Suite, Python, and Matlab will be conducted by Amy and Sara at the beginning of the summer. Students are expected and encouraged to ask questions and request hands-on help when they need it, even beyond the weekly meetings. As for the mentor/mentee relationship itself, I believe in a mentorship style where communication, empathy, and challenge are key components at all times. Communication is at the core of mentorship--from the outset of a project, throughout it, and beyond. I, and my graduate students, will meet with the student to communicate about individual expectations, responsibilities, and the goals of the project. Empathy is also key in the mentorship process for me-- mistakes happen, people are different, and we all feel stress and pressure sometimes. Empathy means understanding that each person is different, and success means helping someone capitalize on their strengths and account for their weaknesses. Finally, my mentorship style is one of challenge by choice. I hold high expectations of my research assistants, and expect them to learn a lot, but I also make sure they know I am available to provide support when they need it.