Most of us can appreciate that it feels worse to fail when people around you are successful than when others are also failing. Indeed, comparison with other individuals is of central importance within social groups. Despite the importance of relative success or failure for human decision making and even well-being, the underlying neurobiological substrate of this social comparison process is not well understood. In the present study, ERPs were recorded while two participants received feedback on both their own, and the other participant's performance on each trial. The results showed that medial frontal negativity, an ERP component associated with deviations from the desired outcome, is particularly enhanced when an individual's own outcomes are worse than those of others. These results indicate that the way the brain evaluates the success of our actions is crucially dependent on the success or failure of others.

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Keywords ERN, FRN, comparison, feedback negativity, social context
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Series ERIM Article Series (EAS)
Journal Psychophysiology: an international journal
Note Article Online in advance of print
Boksem, M.A.S, Kostermans, E, & de Cremer, D. (2011). Failing where others have succeeded: Medial Frontal Negativity tracks failure in a social context. Psychophysiology: an international journal, 48(7), 973–979. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8986.2010.01163.x