Feature-specific prediction errors for visual mismatch

Neuroimage. 2019 Aug 1:196:142-151. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.04.020. Epub 2019 Apr 9.


Predictive coding (PC) theory posits that our brain employs a predictive model of the environment to infer the causes of its sensory inputs. A fundamental but untested prediction of this theory is that the same stimulus should elicit distinct precision weighted prediction errors (pwPEs) when different (feature-specific) predictions are violated, even in the absence of attention. Here, we tested this hypothesis using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and a multi-feature roving visual mismatch paradigm where rare changes in either color (red, green), or emotional expression (happy, fearful) of faces elicited pwPE responses in human participants. Using a computational model of learning and inference, we simulated pwPE and prediction trajectories of a Bayes-optimal observer and used these to analyze changes in blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) responses to changes in color and emotional expression of faces while participants engaged in a distractor task. Controlling for visual attention by eye-tracking, we found pwPE responses to unexpected color changes in the fusiform gyrus. Conversely, unexpected changes of facial emotions elicited pwPE responses in cortico-thalamo-cerebellar structures associated with emotion and theory of mind processing. Predictions pertaining to emotions activated fusiform, occipital and temporal areas. Our results are consistent with a general role of PC across perception, from low-level to complex and socially relevant object features, and suggest that monitoring of the social environment occurs continuously and automatically, even in the absence of attention.

Keywords: Color perception; Emotion recognition; Perception; Perceptual inference; Precision weighted prediction error; Predictive coding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Color Perception / physiology*
  • Facial Expression
  • Facial Recognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Young Adult