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PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e53634. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0053634. Epub 2013 Jan 7.

The human brain maintains contradictory and redundant auditory sensory predictions.

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Cognitive incl. Biological Psychology, Institute of Psychology, University of Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany.

Erratum in

  • PLoS One. 2013;8(9). doi:10.1371/annotation/c7efeea0-cd8e-4c37-ae70-1a97702833a2.


Computational and experimental research has revealed that auditory sensory predictions are derived from regularities of the current environment by using internal generative models. However, so far, what has not been addressed is how the auditory system handles situations giving rise to redundant or even contradictory predictions derived from different sources of information. To this end, we measured error signals in the event-related brain potentials (ERPs) in response to violations of auditory predictions. Sounds could be predicted on the basis of overall probability, i.e., one sound was presented frequently and another sound rarely. Furthermore, each sound was predicted by an informative visual cue. Participants' task was to use the cue and to discriminate the two sounds as fast as possible. Violations of the probability based prediction (i.e., a rare sound) as well as violations of the visual-auditory prediction (i.e., an incongruent sound) elicited error signals in the ERPs (Mismatch Negativity [MMN] and Incongruency Response [IR]). Particular error signals were observed even in case the overall probability and the visual symbol predicted different sounds. That is, the auditory system concurrently maintains and tests contradictory predictions. Moreover, if the same sound was predicted, we observed an additive error signal (scalp potential and primary current density) equaling the sum of the specific error signals. Thus, the auditory system maintains and tolerates functionally independently represented redundant and contradictory predictions. We argue that the auditory system exploits all currently active regularities in order to optimally prepare for future events.

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