Prior expectations about the visual world facilitate perception by allowing us to quickly deduce plausible interpretations from noisy and ambiguous data. The neural mechanisms of this facilitation remain largely unclear. Here, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) techniques to measure both the amplitude and representational content of neural activity in the early visual cortex of human volunteers. We find that while perceptual expectation reduces the neural response amplitude in the primary visual cortex (V1), it improves the stimulus representation in this area, as revealed by MVPA. This informational improvement was independent of attentional modulations by task relevance. Finally, the informational improvement in V1 correlated with subjects' behavioral improvement when the expected stimulus feature was relevant. These data suggest that expectation facilitates perception by sharpening sensory representations.
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