Anticipation of natural stimuli modulates EEG dynamics: physiology and simulation

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In everyday life we often encounter situations in which we can expect a visual stimulus before we actually see it. Here, we study the impact of such stimulus anticipation on the actual response to a visual stimulus. Participants were to indicate the sex of deer and cattle on photographs of the respective animals. On some trials, participants were cued on the species of the upcoming animal whereas on other trials this was not the case. Time frequency analysis of the simultaneously recorded EEG revealed modulations by this cue stimulus in two time windows. Early (≈ 100 ms) spectral responses (≈ 20 Hz) displayed strongest stimulus-locking for stimuli that were preceded by a cue if they were sufficiently large. Late (≈ 300 ms, 40 Hz) responses displayed enhanced amplitudes in response to large stimuli and to stimuli that were preceded by a cue. For late responses, however, no interaction between cue and stimulus size was observed. We were able to explain these results in a simulation by prestimulus gain modulations (early response) and by decreased response thresholds (late response). Thus, it seems plausible, that stimulus anticipation results in a pretuning of local neural populations.

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