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New paper published in Cortex

Reduced prediction error responses in high-as compared to low-uncertainty musical contexts

Cortex, November 2019
David R Quiroga-Martinez, Niels C Hansen, Andreas Højlund, Marcus T Pearce, Elvira Brattico, Peter Vuust

Theories of predictive processing propose that prediction error responses are modulated by the certainty of the predictive model or precision. While there is some evidence for this phenomenon in the visual and, to a lesser extent, the auditory modality, little is known about whether it operates in the complex auditory contexts of daily life. Here, we examined how prediction error responses behave in a more complex and ecologically valid auditory context than those typically studied. We created musical tone sequences with different degrees of pitch uncertainty to manipulate the precision of participants’ auditory expectations. Magnetoencephalography was used to measure the magnetic counterpart of the mismatch negativity (MMNm) as a neural marker of prediction error in a multi-feature paradigm. Pitch, slide, intensity and timbre deviants were included. We compared high-entropy stimuli, consisting of a set of non-repetitive melodies, with low-entropy stimuli consisting of a simple, repetitive pitch pattern. Pitch entropy was quantitatively assessed with an information-theoretic model of auditory expectation. We found a reduction in pitch and slide MMNm amplitudes in the high-entropy as compared to the low-entropy context. No significant differences were found for intensity and timbre MMNm amplitudes. Furthermore, in a separate behavioral experiment investigating the detection of pitch deviants, similar decreases were found for accuracy measures in response to more fine-grained increases in pitch entropy. Our results are consistent with a precision modulation of auditory prediction error in a musical context, and suggest that this effect is specific to features that depend on the manipulated dimension—pitch information, in this case.

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