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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (2016) 28 (1): 41–54.
Published: 01 January 2016
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Complex human behavior is hierarchically organized. Whether or not syntax plays a role in this organization is currently under debate. The present ERP study uses piano performance to isolate syntactic operations in action planning and to demonstrate their priority over nonsyntactic levels of movement selection. Expert pianists were asked to execute chord progressions on a mute keyboard by copying the posture of a performing model hand shown in sequences of photos. We manipulated the final chord of each sequence in terms of Syntax (congruent/incongruent keys) and Manner (conventional/unconventional fingering), as well as the strength of its predictability by varying the length of the Context (five-chord/two-chord progressions). The production of syntactically incongruent compared to congruent chords showed a response delay that was larger in the long compared to the short context. This behavioral effect was accompanied by a centroparietal negativity in the long but not in the short context, suggesting that a syntax-based motor plan was prepared ahead. Conversely, the execution of the unconventional manner was not delayed as a function of Context and elicited an opposite electrophysiological pattern (a posterior positivity). The current data support the hypothesis that motor plans operate at the level of musical syntax and are incrementally translated to lower levels of movement selection.
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (2010) 22 (5): 875–887.
Published: 01 May 2010
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Neurophysiological data suggest that the integration of prior information and incoming sensory evidence represents the neural basis of the decision-making process. Here, we aimed to identify the brain structures involved in the integration of prior information about the average magnitude of a stimulus set and current sensory evidence. Specifically, we investigated whether prior average information already biases vibrotactile decision making during stimulus perception and maintenance before the comparison process. For this purpose, we used a vibrotactile delayed discrimination task and fMRI. At the behavioral level, participants showed the time-order effect. This psychophysical phenomenon has been shown to result from the influence of prior information on the perception of and the memory for currently presented stimuli. Similarly, the fMRI signal reflected the integration of prior information about the average vibration frequency and the currently presented vibration frequency. During stimulus encoding, the fMRI signal in primary and secondary somatosensory (S2) cortex, thalamus, and ventral premotor cortex mirrored an integration process. During stimulus maintenance, only a region in the intraparietal sulcus showed this modulation by prior average information. Importantly, the fMRI signal in S2 and intraparietal sulcus correlated with individual differences in the degree to which participants integrated prior average information. This strongly suggests that these two regions play a pivotal role in the integration process. Taken together, these results support the notion that the integration of current sensory and prior average information is a major feature of how the human brain perceives, remembers, and judges magnitude stimuli.
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (2009) 21 (12): 2407–2419.
Published: 01 December 2009
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Do ongoing brain states determine conscious perception of an upcoming stimulus? Using the high temporal resolution of EEG, we investigated the relationship between prestimulus neuronal oscillations and the perceptibility of two competing somatosensory stimuli embedded in a backward masking paradigm. We identified two prestimulus EEG signatures predictive for a suprathreshold yet weak target stimulus to become perceptually resistant against masking by a stronger distractor stimulus: (i) over left frontal cortex a desynchronization of the regional beta rhythm (∼20 Hz) 500 msec prior to a perceived target, and (ii) a subsequent additional attenuation of both mu (∼10 Hz) and beta “idling” rhythms over those pericentral sensorimotor cortices which are going to process the upcoming target stimulus. Furthermore, across subjects the probability for target perception strongly correlates with the individual absolute level of pre-target amplitudes in these frequency bands and locations. These signatures significantly differed from the EEG characteristics preceding detected and undetected single stimuli. We suggest that the early activation of left frontal areas involved in top–down attentional control is critical for preventing backward masking and leads the preparation of primary sensory cortices: The ensuing prestimulus suppression of sensory idling rhythms warrants an intensified poststimulus processing, and thus, effectively promotes conscious perception of suprathreshold target stimuli embedded into an ecologically relevant condition featuring competing environmental stimuli.