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J Neurophysiol. 2017 Aug 1;118(2):771-777. doi: 10.1152/jn.00969.2016. Epub 2017 May 17.

Learning temporal context shapes prestimulus alpha oscillations and improves visual discrimination performance.

Author information

1
School of Cognitive Sciences, Institute for Research in Fundamental Sciences (IPM), Tehran, Iran; and ttoosi@ipm.ir.
2
School of Cognitive Sciences, Institute for Research in Fundamental Sciences (IPM), Tehran, Iran; and.
3
Research Center for Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran.

Abstract

Time is an inseparable component of every physical event that we perceive, yet it is not clear how the brain processes time or how the neuronal representation of time affects our perception of events. Here we asked subjects to perform a visual discrimination task while we changed the temporal context in which the stimuli were presented. We collected electroencephalography (EEG) signals in two temporal contexts. In predictable blocks stimuli were presented after a constant delay relative to a visual cue, and in unpredictable blocks stimuli were presented after variable delays relative to the visual cue. Four subsecond delays of 83, 150, 400, and 800 ms were used in the predictable and unpredictable blocks. We observed that predictability modulated the power of prestimulus alpha oscillations in the parieto-occipital sites: alpha power increased in the 300-ms window before stimulus onset in the predictable blocks compared with the unpredictable blocks. This modulation only occurred in the longest delay period, 800 ms, in which predictability also improved the behavioral performance of the subjects. Moreover, learning the temporal context shaped the prestimulus alpha power: modulation of prestimulus alpha power grew during the predictable block and correlated with performance enhancement. These results suggest that the brain is able to learn the subsecond temporal context of stimuli and use this to enhance sensory processing. Furthermore, the neural correlate of this temporal prediction is reflected in the alpha oscillations.NEW & NOTEWORTHY It is not well understood how the uncertainty in the timing of an external event affects its processing, particularly at subsecond scales. Here we demonstrate how a predictable timing scheme improves visual processing. We found that learning the predictable scheme gradually shaped the prestimulus alpha power. These findings indicate that the human brain is able to extract implicit subsecond patterns in the temporal context of events.

KEYWORDS:

EEG; alpha power; parietal cortex; prediction; timing

PMID:
28515289
PMCID:
PMC5539440
DOI:
10.1152/jn.00969.2016
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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