This study examines the effects of expected transcranial stimulation on the error(-related) negativity (Ne or ERN) and the sense of agency in participants who perform a cognitive control task. Placebo transcranial direct current stimulation was used to elicit expectations of transcranially induced cognitive improvement or impairment. The improvement/impairment manipulation affected both the Ne/ERN and the sense of agency (i.e., whether participants attributed errors to oneself or the brain stimulation device): Expected improvement increased the ERN in response to errors compared with both impairment and control conditions. Expected impairment made participants falsely attribute errors to the transcranial stimulation. This decrease in sense of agency was correlated with a reduced ERN amplitude. These results show that expectations about transcranial stimulation impact users' neural response to self-generated errors and the attribution of responsibility—especially when actions lead to negative outcomes. We discuss our findings in relation to predictive processing theory according to which the effect of prior expectations on the ERN reflects the brain's attempt to generate predictive models of incoming information. By demonstrating that induced expectations about transcranial stimulation can have effects at a neural level, that is, beyond mere demand characteristics, our findings highlight the potential for placebo brain stimulation as a promising tool for research.

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