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Sci Rep. 2018 Apr 26;8(1):6606. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-25093-5.

Effects of meaningfulness on perception: Alpha-band oscillations carry perceptual expectations and influence early visual responses.

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Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, 53703, USA.
Leiden Centre for Research in Linguistics and the Leiden Centre for Brain and Cognition, Leiden University, Leiden, 2300 RC, The Netherlands.
Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, 53703, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, 53703, USA.


Perceptual experience results from a complex interplay of bottom-up input and prior knowledge about the world, yet the extent to which knowledge affects perception, the neural mechanisms underlying these effects, and the stages of processing at which these two sources of information converge, are still unclear. In several experiments we show that language, in the form of verbal labels, both aids recognition of ambiguous "Mooney" images and improves objective visual discrimination performance in a match/non-match task. We then used electroencephalography (EEG) to better understand the mechanisms of this effect. The improved discrimination of images previously labeled was accompanied by a larger occipital-parietal P1 evoked response to the meaningful versus meaningless target stimuli. Time-frequency analysis of the interval between the cue and the target stimulus revealed increases in the power of posterior alpha-band (8-14 Hz) oscillations when the meaning of the stimuli to be compared was trained. The magnitude of the pre-target alpha difference and the P1 amplitude difference were positively correlated across individuals. These results suggest that prior knowledge prepares the brain for upcoming perception via the modulation of alpha-band oscillations, and that this preparatory state influences early (~120 ms) stages of visual processing.

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