Using fMRI to study the neural basis of violation-of-expectation
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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Using fMRI to study the neural basis of violation-of-expectation


In studies of infant cognition, why do babies look longer when objects pass through each other, or someone behaves inefficiently? We test 3 candidate explanations (domain-specific prediction error, domain-general endogenous curiosity, and perceptual novelty), each with a distinct, non-mutually exclusive, predicted pattern of neural activity. We scanned 17 adults using fMRI while they watched videos of agents and objects, adapted from infant behavioral research [1–4]. Cortical regions preferring social vs physical information [5,6] showed similar preferences for these stimuli. These regions, in the first run of the experiment, responded to physical and social violations (unexpected > expected outcomes), with a greater response to violations from the corresponding domain. Regions that respond to general perceptual novelty also responded to social and physical violations, regardless of domain. Thus both domain-specific, and general perceptual, cortical regions encode violations of expectation involving agents and objects. References 1. Baillargeon R, Spelke ES, Wasserman S. Object permanence in five-month-old infants. Cognition. 1985;20: 191–208. 2. Needham A, Baillargeon R. Intuitions about support in 4.5-month-old infants. Cognition. 1993;47: 121–148. 3. Gergely G, Nádasdy Z, Csibra G, Bíró S. Taking the intentional stance at 12 months of age. Cognition. 1995;56: 165–193. 4. Woodward AL. Infants selectively encode the goal object of an actor’s reach. Cognition. 1998;69: 1–34. 5. Koster-Hale J, Saxe R. Functional neuroimaging of theory of mind. Understanding Other Minds. 2013. pp. 132–163. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199692972.003.0009 6. Fischer J, Mikhael JG, Tenenbaum JB, Kanwisher N. Functional neuroanatomy of intuitive physical inference. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016;113: E5072–81.

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