Abstract

Interactions between stimuli's acoustic features and experience-based internal models of the environment enable listeners to compensate for the disruptions in auditory streams that are regularly encountered in noisy environments. However, whether auditory gaps are filled in predictively or restored a posteriori remains unclear. The current lack of positive statistical evidence that internal models can actually shape brain activity as would real sounds precludes accepting predictive accounts of filling-in phenomenon. We investigated the neurophysiological effects of internal models by testing whether single-trial electrophysiological responses to omitted sounds in a rule-based sequence of tones with varying pitch could be decoded from the responses to real sounds and by analyzing the ERPs to the omissions with data-driven electrical neuroimaging methods. The decoding of the brain responses to different expected, but omitted, tones in both passive and active listening conditions was above chance based on the responses to the real sound in active listening conditions. Topographic ERP analyses and electrical source estimations revealed that, in the absence of any stimulation, experience-based internal models elicit an electrophysiological activity different from noise and that the temporal dynamics of this activity depend on attention. We further found that the expected change in pitch direction of omitted tones modulated the activity of left posterior temporal areas 140–200 msec after the onset of omissions. Collectively, our results indicate that, even in the absence of any stimulation, internal models modulate brain activity as do real sounds, indicating that auditory filling in can be accounted for by predictive activity.

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