Tickling expectations: neural processing in anticipation of a sensory stimulus

J Cogn Neurosci. 2000 Jul;12(4):691-703. doi: 10.1162/089892900562318.


Predictions of the near future can optimize the accuracy and speed of sensory processing as well as of behavioral responses. Previous experience and contextual cues are essential elements in the generation of a subjective prediction. Using a blocked fMRI paradigm, we investigated the pattern of neural activation in anticipation of a sensory stimulus and during the processing of the somatosensory stimulus itself. Tickling was chosen as the somatosensory stimulus rather than simple touch in order to increase the probability to get a high degree of anticipation. The location and nature of the stimulus were well defined to the subject. The state of anticipation was initiated by attributing an uncertainty regarding the time of stimulus onset. The network of activation and deactivation during anticipation of the expected stimulus was similar to that engaged during the actual sensory stimulation. The areas that were activated during both states included the contralateral primary sensory cortex, bilateral areas in the inferior parietal lobules, the putative area SII, the right anterior cingulate cortex and areas in the right prefrontal cortex. Similarly, common decreases were observed in areas of sensorimotor cortex located outside the area representing the target of stimulus, i.e., areas that process information which is irrelevant to the attended process. The overlapping pattern of change, during the somatosensory stimulation and the anticipation, furthers the idea that predictions are subserved by a neuronal network similar to that which subserves the processing of actual sensory input. Moreover, this study indicates that activation of primary somatosensory cortex can be obtained without intra-modal sensory input. These findings suggest that anticipation may invoke a tonic top-down regulation of neural activity.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neural Conduction / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Perceptual Defense
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Rest / physiology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology
  • Touch / physiology*