Perceivers can use past experiences to make sense of ambiguous sensory signals. However, this may be inappropriate when the world changes and past experiences no longer predict what the future holds. Optimal learning models propose that observers decide whether to stick with or update their predictions by tracking the uncertainty or “precision” of their expectations. However, contrasting theories of prediction have argued that we are prone to misestimate uncertainty—leading to stubborn predictions that are difficult to dislodge. To compare these possibilities, we had participants learn novel perceptual predictions before using fMRI to record visual brain activity when predictive contingencies were disrupted—meaning that previously “expected” events became objectively improbable. Multivariate pattern analyses revealed that expected events continued to be decoded with greater fidelity from primary visual cortex, despite marked changes in the statistical structure of the environment, which rendered these expectations no longer valid. These results suggest that our perceptual systems do indeed form stubborn predictions even from short periods of learning—and more generally suggest that top–down expectations have the potential to help or hinder perceptual inference in bounded minds like ours.

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