A nonlinear code for event probability in the human brain

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Assessing probabilities and predicting future events are fundamental for perception and adaptive behavior, yet the neural representations of probability remain elusive. While previous studies have shown that neural activity in several brain regions correlates with probability-related factors such as surprise and uncertainty, similar correlations have not been found for probability. Here, using 7 Tesla functional magnetic resonance imaging, we uncover a representation of the probability of the next event in a sequence within the human dorsolateral prefrontal and intraparietal cortices. Crucially, univariate and multivariate analyses revealed that this representation employs a highly nonlinear code. Tuning curves for probability exhibit selectivity to various probability ranges, while the code for confidence accompanying these estimates is predominantly linear. The diversity of tuning curves we found recommends that future studies move from assuming linear correlates or simple canonical forms of tuning curves to considering richer representations whose benefits remain to be discovered.

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