Expectation affects neural repetition suppression in infancy

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Recent work provides evidence that the infant brain is able to make top-down predictions, but this has been explored only in limited contexts and domains. We build upon this evidence of predictive processing in infants using a new paradigm to examine auditory repetition suppression (RS). RS is a well-documented neural phenomenon in which repeated presentations of the same stimulus result in reduced neural activation compared to non-repeating stimuli. Many theories explain RS using bottom-up mechanisms, but recent work has posited that top-down expectation and predictive coding may bias, or even explain, RS. Here, we investigate whether RS in the infant brain is similarly sensitive to top-down mechanisms. We use fNIRS to measure infants’ neural response in two experimental conditions, one in which variability in stimulus presentation is expected (occurs 75% of the time) and a control condition where variability and repetition are equally likely (50% of the time). We show that 6-month-old infants exhibit attenuated frontal lobe response to blocks of variable auditory stimuli during contexts when variability is expected as compared to the control condition. These findings suggest that young infants’ neural responses are modulated by predictions gained from experience and not simply by bottom-up mechanisms.




Emberson, L. L., Boldin, A. M., Robertson, C. E., Cannon, G., & Aslin, R. N. (2018). Expectation affects neural repetition suppression in infancy. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. Elsevier Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2018.11.001

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