October 20, 2020

Temporal uncertainty affects the visual processing of predicted stimulus properties

Predictive processing has been proposed as a fundamental cognitive mechanism to account for how the brain interacts with the external environment via its sensory modalities. The brain processes external information about the content (i.e.,”what”)and timing (i.e.,”when”) of environmental stimuli to update an internal generative model of the world around it. However, the interaction between ”what” and ”when” has received very little attention when focusing on vision. In this magnetoencephalography (MEG) study we investigate how processing of feature specific information (i.e. ”what”) is affected by temporal predictability (i.e. ”when”). In line with previous findings, we observed a suppression of evoked neural responses in the visual cortex for predictable stimuli. Interestingly, we observed that temporal uncertainty enhances this expectation suppression effect. This suggests that in temporally uncertain scenarios the neurocognitive system relies more on internal representations and invests less resources integrating bottom-up information. Indeed, temporal decoding analysis indicated that visual features are encoded for a shorter time period by the neural system when temporal uncertainty is higher. This supports the fact that visual information is maintained active for less time for a stimulus whose time onset is unpredictable compared to when it is predictable. These findings highlight the higher reliance of the visual system on the internal expectations when the temporal dynamics of the external environment are less predictable.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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