The oddball protocol has been used to study the neural and perceptual consequences of implicit predictions in the human brain. The protocol involves presenting a sequence of identical repeated events that are eventually broken by a novel “oddball” presentation. Oddball presentations have been linked to increased neural responding and to an exaggeration of perceived duration relative to repeated events. Because the number of repeated events in such protocols is circumscribed, as more repeats are encountered, the conditional probability of a further repeat decreases—whereas the conditional probability of an oddball increases. These facts have not been appreciated in many analyses of oddballs; repeats and oddballs have rather been treated as binary event categories. Here, we show that the human brain is sensitive to conditional event probabilities in an active, visual oddball paradigm. P300 responses (a relatively late component of visually evoked potentials measured with EEG) tended to be greater for less likely oddballs and repeats. By contrast, P1 responses (an earlier component) increased for repeats as a goal-relevant target presentation neared, but this effect occurred even when repeat probabilities were held constant, and oddball P1 responses were invariant. We also found that later, more likely oddballs seemed to last longer, and this effect was largely independent of the number of preceding repeats. These findings speak against a repetition suppression account of the temporal oddball effect. Overall, our data highlight an impact of event probability on later, rather than earlier, electroencephalographic measures previously related to predictive processes—and the importance of considering conditional probabilities in sequential presentation paradigms.

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