Expectation-induced modulation of metastable activity underlies faster coding of sensory stimuli

Sabah Bari ’24

Figure 1: Child is being fed with a spoon. From a young age, we develop our sense of taste and our expectations through our anticipatory cues.

Expectation is what drives the human brain to perceive our senses. Perception is connected to sensory processing, and the recognition of the stimuli is what determines how accurately and how fast individuals are able to understand it. In the gustatory cortex, the pre-stimulus activity is the anticipation of a specific taste before even consuming a food. The anticipation is a trigger to distinguish different tastes. It was thought that the anticipatory activity is what creates the variations in the stimuli reaction time. 

The mechanism of the anticipatory cue is how the neurons are strongly connected and construct a pre-stimulus activity. The observation of the gustatory cortex in alert rats has appeared to agree with the findings of how the anticipatory cue codes the neurons in a clustered population. To strengthen the outcomes, there were anticipatory inputs connected with random neuronal targets and reflected in the same results as the experimental. To test if the cue was affected by the stimulus coding, researchers checked the information encoded in the neural activity. The stimulus was coded well with perfect accuracy; thus, the increase in decoding accuracy was significantly faster in the expected than the unexpected. The color coded raster plot correlates the color with the changes of how active the neuron is and through the experiment, it was concluded that expectation can change those outcomes.

Since the neurons in the gustatory cortex are always active, it is important to understand anticipatory cues and how they reflect on an individual’s expectation. Detecting with the cue can help improve reaction times and differentiate between different stimuli. Ultimately, an anticipated stimulus tends to create biases due  to generated expectations. It alters the speed of the sequence of how humans perceive taste through the brain’s activity. 

Work(s) cited:

[1] Mazzucato, L., La Camera, G. & Fontanini, A. Expectation-induced modulation of metastable activity underlies faster coding of sensory stimuli. Nat Neurosci 22, 787–796 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41593-019-0364-9

[2] Image retrieved from: https://unsplash.com/photos/FKwGPzwaGqc

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