Contingent negative variation (CNV) associated with sensorimotor timing error correction

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Detection and subsequent correction of sensorimotor timing errors are fundamental to adaptive behavior. Using scalp-recorded event-related potentials (ERPs), we sought to find ERP components that are predictive of error correction performance during rhythmic movements.


Healthy right-handed participants were asked to synchronize their finger taps to a regular tone sequence (every 600 ms), while EEG data were continuously recorded. Data from 15 participants were analyzed. Occasional irregularities were built into stimulus presentation timing: 90 ms before (advances: negative shift) or after (delays: positive shift) the expected time point. A tapping condition alternated with a listening condition in which identical stimulus sequence was presented but participants did not tap.


Behavioral error correction was observed immediately following a shift, with a degree of over-correction with positive shifts. Our stimulus-locked ERP data analysis revealed, 1) increased auditory N1 amplitude for the positive shift condition and decreased auditory N1 modulation for the negative shift condition; and 2) a second enhanced negativity (N2) in the tapping positive condition, compared with the tapping negative condition. In response-locked epochs, we observed a CNV (contingent negative variation)-like negativity with earlier latency in the tapping negative condition compared with the tapping positive condition. This CNV-like negativity peaked at around the onset of subsequent tapping, with the earlier the peak, the better the error correction performance with the negative shifts while the later the peak, the better the error correction performance with the positive shifts.


This study showed that the CNV-like negativity was associated with the error correction performance during our sensorimotor synchronization study. Auditory N1 and N2 were differentially involved in negative vs. positive error correction. However, we did not find evidence for their involvement in behavioral error correction. Overall, our study provides the basis from which further research on the role of the CNV in perceptual and motor timing can be developed.

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