The Role of Motivation and Anxiety on Error Awareness in Younger and Older Adults

Elisa Di Rosa, Fabio Masina, Antonino Vallesi, Daniela Mapelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aging is associated with several changes in cognitive functions, as well as in motivational and affective processes, which in turn interact with cognitive functions. The present study aimed to investigate error awareness (EA), which declines with aging, in relation to motivation and anxiety. Adopting an experimental task, we firstly tested the hypothesis that EA could be enhanced through reward motivation. Secondly, we explored the relation between state and trait anxiety and EA, investigating the hypothesis of an association between EA and anxiety, and between anxiety and the potential benefit of motivation on EA. Thirty healthy younger (age range: 19–35 years; mean age 25.4 ± 5.1; 10 M) and 30 healthy older adults (age range: 61–83 years; mean age 69.7 ± 5.5; 12 M) took part in the study and performed both the classic Error Awareness Task (EAT) and one experimental task, called the Motivational EAT. In this new task, motivational incentives were delivered after aware correct responses and aware errors. For every participant, standard measures of state and trait anxiety and cognitive functions were collected. Confirming the presence of a significant age-related EA decline, results did not reveal any influence of reward motivation on EA, nor any relation between EA and anxiety. However, both younger and older adults had longer response times (RTs) and made more errors during the Motivational EAT, with the more anxious participants showing the greater RT slowing. Findings suggest that reward motivation might not be always beneficial for cognitive performance, as well as that anxiety does not relate to EA capacity. Results also recommend further investigation, as well as the assessment of EA in patients with either motivational deficits like apathy, and/or with anxiety disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Article number567718
Number of pages9
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - Feb 19 2021


  • aging
  • anxiety
  • error awareness
  • motivation
  • reward

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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