Expectation suppression in early visual cortex depends on task set

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Abstract

Stimulus expectation can modulate neural responses in early sensory cortical regions, with expected stimuli often leading to a reduced neural response. However, it is unclear whether this expectation suppression is an automatic phenomenon or is instead dependent on the type of task a subject is engaged in. To investigate this, human subjects were presented with visual grating stimuli in the periphery that were either predictable or non-predictable while they performed three tasks that differently engaged cognitive resources. In two of the tasks, the predictable stimulus was task-irrelevant and spatial attention was engaged at fixation, with a high load on either perceptual or working memory resources. In the third task, the predictable stimulus was task-relevant, and therefore spatially attended. We observed that expectation suppression is dependent on the cognitive resources engaged by a subjects' current task. When the grating was task-irrelevant, expectation suppression for predictable items was visible in retinotopically specific areas of early visual cortex (V1-V3) during the perceptual task, but it was abolished when working memory was loaded. When the grating was task-relevant and spatially attended, there was no significant effect of expectation in early visual cortex. These results suggest that expectation suppression is not an automatic phenomenon, but dependent on attentional state and type of available cognitive resources.

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John-Saaltink, E. S., Utzerath, C., Kok, P., Lau, H. C., & De Lange, F. P. (2015). Expectation suppression in early visual cortex depends on task set. PLoS ONE, 10(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0131172

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