BACKGROUND: Deficits in error processing are reflected in an inability of people with externalizing problems to adjust their problem behaviour. The present study contains 2 meta-analyses, testing whether error processing - indexed by the event-related potentials error-related negativity (ERN) and error positivity (Pe) - is reduced in children and adults with externalizing problems and disorders compared to healthy controls.
METHODS: We conducted a systematic search in PubMed (1980 to December 2018), PsycInfo (1980 to December 2018) and Scopus (1970 to December 2018), identifying 328 studies. We included studies that measured error processing using the Eriksen flanker task, the go/no-go task or the stop-signal task in healthy controls and in adults or children with clearly described externalizing behavioural problems (e.g., aggression) or a clinical diagnosis on the externalizing spectrum (e.g., addiction).
RESULTS: Random-effect models (ERN: 23 studies, 1739 participants; Pe: 27 studies, 1456 participants) revealed a reduced ERN amplitude (Hedges' g = 0.44, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.29 to 0.58) and a reduced Pe amplitude (Hedges' g = -0.27, 95% CI -0.44 to -0.09) during error processing in people with externalizing problems or disorders compared to healthy controls. Type of diagnosis, age and the presence of performance feedback or comorbidity did not moderate the results. The employed cognitive task was a moderator for Pe but not for ERN. The go/no-go task generated a greater amplitude difference in Pe than the Eriksen flanker task. Small-sample assessment revealed evidence of publication bias for both event-related potentials. However, a p curve analysis for ERN showed that evidential value was present; for Pe, the p curve analysis was inconclusive.
LIMITATIONS: The moderators did not explain the potential heterogeneity in most of the analysis, suggesting that other disorder- and patient-related factors affect error processing.
CONCLUSION: Our findings indicate the presence of compromised error processing in externalizing psychopathology, suggesting diminished activation of the prefrontal cortex during performance monitoring.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the Erasmus Initiatives for Vital Cities and Citizens, Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
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