Midfrontal theta reactivity to conflict and error are linked to externalizing and internalizing respectively

Phoebe S-H Neo, Shabah M Shadli, Neil McNaughton, Martin Sellbom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Dimensional psychopathology scores measure symptom severity; cutting across disorder categories. Their clinical utility is high given comorbidity, but their neural basis is unclear. We used scalp electroencephalography (EEG) to concurrently assess neural activity across internalizing and externalizing traits. "Theta rhythm" (4-7 Hz) spectral power at the frontal midline site Fz in specific goal conflict and action error phases within a trial of a Stop-Signal Task was extracted using process-specific contrasts. A final sample of 146 community participants (63 males, 83 females; mean age = 36; SD = 9; range = 18 - 56), oversampled for externalizing disorder (49% diagnosed with a DSM-5 externalizing disorder), also supplied psychopathology and personality data. We used the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-3 (MMPI-3) to measure symptoms and traits of psychopathology. An MMPI-3 measure of the higher-order internalizing psychopathology spectrum was positively correlated with action error theta. An MMPI-3 measure of the higher-order spectrum of externalizing psychopathology was negatively correlated with goal-conflict theta. We showed that goal-conflict and error theta activity are higher-order processes that index psychopathology severity. The associations extend into the nominally healthy range, and so reflect theta-related factors that apply to the general population as well as patients with sub-threshold diagnoses.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere8
Pages (from-to)e8
JournalPersonality Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jan 2024


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