Slow brain potentials after withdrawal of control

Thomas Elbert, Brigitte Rockstroh, Werner Lutzenberger, Niels Birbaumer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present experiment was designed to replicate and extend the previous finding of an increased postimperative negative slow brain potential shift (PINV) in healthy subjects following an unexpected change from the condition of control over an aversive imperative stimulus to that of loss of control. Two groups of 16 male students each participated in a constant-foreperiod reaction time paradigm with two warning stimuli (WS), each of 6 s duration, followed by two imperative stimuli (IS) of either aversive (loud noise) or neutral (soft tone) quality. The experimental subjects could terminate each IS by pressing a microswitch within 300 ms of IS-onset. After they had experienced this contingency for 40 trials, control was withdrawn in that the IS lasted for 5 s during another 40-trial block, irrespective of the actual motor response of the subject. The yoked control subjects received the same stimuli and performed the same motor response as the experimental subjects, but experienced no contingency between response and IS-termination. EEGs were recorded monopolarly from Fz, Cz, and Pz. In response to the unexpectedly uncontrollable aversive IS, the experimental subjects showed a pronounced PINV over frontal areas, while no comparable PINV developed in yoked controls. Experimental subjects showed no PINV during the first trial block (control conditions), and in response to the neutral uncontrollable IS. Statistical analyses of principle components documented that the PINV can be considered an independent endogenous component.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-214
Number of pages14
JournalArchiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten Vereinigt mit Zeitschrift für die Gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1982


  • CNV
  • Principle component analysis
  • Slow brain potentials
  • Uncontrollability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Medicine(all)


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