Alterations in error processing are implicated in a range of DSM-defined psychiatric disorders. For instance, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and generalised anxiety disorder show enhanced electrophysiological responses to errors – i.e. error-related negativity (ERN) – while others like schizophrenia have an attenuated ERN. However, as diagnostic categories in psychiatry are heterogeneous and also highly intercorrelated, the precise mapping of ERN enhancements and impairments is unclear. To address this, we recorded electroencephalograms (EEG) from 196 participants who performed the Flanker task and collected scores on 9 questionnaires assessing psychiatric symptoms to test if a dimensional framework could reveal specific transdiagnostic clinical manifestations of error processing dysfunctions. Contrary to our hypothesis, we found no association between ERN amplitude and symptom severity of OCD, trait anxiety, depression, social anxiety, impulsivity, eating disorders, alcohol addiction, schizotypy or apathy. A transdiagnostic approach did nothing to improve signal; there was no association between three transdiagnostic dimensions (anxious-depression, compulsive behaviour and intrusive thought and social withdrawal) and ERN magnitude. In these same individuals, we replicated a previously published transdiagnostic association between goal-directed learning and compulsive behaviour and intrusive thought. Associations between the ERN and psychopathology might be smaller than previously assumed and/or dependent on a greater level of symptom severity than other transdiagnostic cognitive biomarkers.
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