The repetition of nociceptive stimuli of identical modality, intensity, and location at short and constant interstimulus intervals (ISIs) determines a strong habituation of the corresponding EEG responses, without affecting the subjective perception of pain. To understand what determines this response habituation, we (i) examined the effect of introducing a change in the modality of the repeated stimulus, and (ii) dissected the relative contribution of bottom–up, stimulus-driven changes in modality and top–down, cognitive expectations of such a change, on both laser-evoked and auditory-evoked EEG responses. Multichannel EEG was recorded while participants received trains of three stimuli (S1–S2–S3, a triplet) delivered to the hand dorsum at 1-sec ISI. S3 belonged either to the same modality as S1 and S2 or to the other modality. In addition, participants were either explicitly informed or not informed of the modality of S3. We found that introducing a change in stimulus modality produced a significant dishabituation of the laser-evoked N1, N2, and P2 waves; the auditory N1 and P2 waves; and the laser- and auditory-induced event-related synchronization and desynchronization. In contrast, the lack of explicit knowledge of a possible change in the sensory modality of the stimulus (i.e., uncertainty) only increased the ascending portion of the laser-evoked and auditory-evoked P2 wave. Altogether, these results indicate that bottom–up novelty resulting from the change of stimulus modality, and not top–down cognitive expectations, plays a major role in determining the habituation of these brain responses.

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