Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

When decisions of others matter to me: an electrophysiological analysis

Josep Marco-Pallarés123, Ulrike M Krämer3, Saskia Strehl3, Andrea Schröder3 and Thomas F Münte34*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Basic Psychology, University of Barcelona, Vall d'Hebron 171. Barcelona, 08035, Spain

2 Institut d'Investigacions Biomèdiques de Bellvitge (IDIBELL), Feixa Llarga s.n., L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, 08907, Spain

3 Dept. of Neuropsychology, Otto von Guericke University, Universitätsplatz 2, Gebäude 24, Magdeburg, 39106, Germany

4 Dept of Neurology, University of Lübeck, Ratzeburger Allee 160, Lübeck, 23538, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2010, 11:86  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-11-86

Published: 29 July 2010



Actions of others may have immediate consequences for oneself. We probed the neural responses associated with the observation of another person's action using event-related potentials in a modified gambling task. In this task a "performer" bet either a higher or lower number and could win or lose this amount. Three different groups of "observers" were also studied. The first (neutral) group simply observed the performer's action, which had no consequences for the observers. In the second (parallel) group, wins/losses of the performer were paralleled by similar wins and losses by the observer. In the third (reverse) group, wins of the performer led to a loss of the observer and vice versa.


ERPs of the performers showed a mediofrontal feedback related negativity (FRN) to losses. The neutral and parallel observer groups did similarly show an FRN response to the performer's losses with a topography indistinguishable from that seen in the performers. In the reverse group, however, the FRN occurred for wins of the performer which translated to losses for the observer.


Taking into account previous experiments, we suggest that the FRN response in observers is driven by two evaluative processes (a) related to the benefit/loss for oneself and (b) related to the benefit/loss of another person.