Elsevier, NeuroImage, (96), p. 95-105
The contingent negative variation, a slow cortical potential, occurs when humans are warned by a stimulus about an upcoming task. The cognitive processes that give rise to this EEG potential are not yet well understood. To explain these processes, we adopt a recently developed theoretical framework from the area of perceptual decision-making. This framework assumes that the basal ganglia control the tradeoff between fast and accurate decision-making in the cortex. It suggests that an increase in cortical excitability serves to lower response caution, which results in faster but more error prone responding. We propose that the CNV reflects this increased cortical excitability. To test this hypothesis, we conducted an EEG experiment in which participants performed the random dot motion task either under speed or under accuracy stress. Our results show that trial-by-trial fluctuations in participants' response speed as well as model-based estimates of response caution correlated with single-trial CNV amplitude under conditions of speed but not accuracy stress. We conclude that the CNV might reflect adjustments of response caution, which serves to enhance quick decision-making.