Prior probability modulates anticipatory activity in category-specific areas

Sabrina Trapp, Jöran Lepsien, Sonja A. Kotz, Moshe Bar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bayesian models are currently a dominant framework for describing human information processing. However, it is not clear yet how major tenets of this framework can be translated to brain processes. In this study, we addressed the neural underpinning of prior probability and its effect on anticipatory activity in category-specific areas. Before fMRI scanning, participants were trained in two behavioral sessions to learn the prior probability and correct order of visual events within a sequence. The events of each sequence included two different presentations of a geometric shape and one picture of either a house or a face, which appeared with either a high or a low likelihood. Each sequence was preceded by a cue that gave participants probabilistic information about which items to expect next. This allowed examining cue-related anticipatory modulation of activity as a function of prior probability in category-specific areas (fusiform face area and parahippocampal place area). Our findings show that activity in the fusiform face area was higher when faces had a higher prior probability. The finding of a difference between levels of expectations is consistent with graded, probabilistically modulated activity, but the data do not rule out the alternative explanation of a categorical neural response. Importantly, these differences were only visible during anticipation, and vanished at the time of stimulus presentation, calling for a functional distinction when considering the effects of prior probability. Finally, there were no anticipatory effects for houses in the parahippocampal place area, suggesting sensitivity to stimulus material when looking at effects of prediction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-144
Number of pages10
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2016


  • Anticipation
  • Bayesian
  • Fusiform face area
  • Likelihood
  • Predictive coding
  • Statistical learning

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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