Subjective confidence modulates individual BOLD patterns of predictive processing

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Humans are adept at extracting and learning sequential patterns from sensory input. This ability enables predictions about future states, resulting in anticipation both on a behavioral and neural level. Stimuli deviating from predictions usually evoke higher neural and hemodynamic activity than predicted stimuli. This difference indicates increased surprise, or prediction error signaling in the context of predictive coding. However, interindividual differences in learning performance and uncertainty have rarely been taken into account. Under Bayesian formulations of cortical function, surprise should be strongest if a subject makes incorrect predictions with high confidence.

In the present study, we studied the impact of subjective confidence on imaging markers of predictive processing. Participants viewed visual object sequences of varying predictability over multiple days. After each day, we instructed them to complete partially presented sequences and to rate their confidence in the decision. During fMRI scanning, participants saw sequences that either confirmed predictions, deviated from them, or were random. We replicated findings of increased BOLD responses to surprising input in the ventral visual stream. In line with our hypothesis, response magnitude increased with the level of confidence after the training phase. Interestingly, the activity difference between predictable and random input also scaled with confidence: In the anterior cingulate, predictable sequences elicited higher activity for low levels of confidence, but lower activity for high levels of confidence. In summary, we showed that confidence is a crucial moderator of the link between predictive processing and BOLD activity.

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