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Brain responses in humans reveal ideal observer-like sensitivity to complex acoustic patterns

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Tim GriffithsORCiD


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We use behavioral methods, magnetoencephalography, and functional MRI to investigate how human listeners discover temporal patterns and statistical regularities in complex sound sequences. Sensitivity to patterns is fundamental to sensory processing, in particular in the auditory system, because most auditory signals only have meaning as successions over time. Previous evidence suggests that the brain is tuned to the statistics of sensory stimulation. However, the process through which this arises has been elusive. We demonstrate that listeners are remarkably sensitive to the emergence of complex patterns within rapidly evolving sound sequences, performing on par with an ideal observer model. Brain responses reveal online processes of evidence accumulation-dynamic changes in tonic activity precisely correlate with the expected precision or predictability of ongoing auditory input-both in terms of deterministic (first-order) structure and the entropy of random sequences. Source analysis demonstrates an interaction between primary auditory cortex, hippocampus, and inferior frontal gyrus in the process of discovering the regularity within the ongoing sound sequence. The results are consistent with precision based predictive coding accounts of perceptual inference and provide compelling neurophysiological evidence of the brain's capacity to encode high-order temporal structure in sensory signals.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Barascud N, Pearce MT, Griffiths TD, Friston KJ, Chait M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Year: 2016

Volume: 113

Issue: 5

Pages: E616-E625

Print publication date: 01/02/2016

Online publication date: 19/01/2016

Acceptance date: 01/01/1900

ISSN (print): 0027-8424

ISSN (electronic): 1091-6490

Publisher: National Academy of Sciences


DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1508523113


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Funder referenceFunder name
Deafness Research UK
093292/Z/10/ZWellcome Trust