Predicted Action Consequences Are Perceptually Facilitated Before Cancellation

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Models of action control suggest that predicted action outcomes are “cancelled” from perception, allowing agents to devote resources to more behaviorally relevant unexpected events. These models are supported by a range of findings demonstrating that expected consequences of action are perceived less intensely than unexpected events. A key assumption of these models is that the prediction is subtracted from the sensory input. This early subtraction allows preferential processing of unexpected events from the outset of movement, thereby promoting rapid initiation of corrective actions and updating of predictive models. We tested this assumption in three psychophysical experiments. Participants rated the intensity (brightness) of observed finger movements congruent or incongruent with their own movements at different timepoints after action. Across Experiments 1 and 2, evidence of cancellation—whereby congruent events appeared less bright than incongruent events—was only found 200 ms after action, whereas an opposite effect of brighter congruent percepts was observed in earlier time ranges (50 ms after action). Experiment 3 demonstrated that this interaction was not a result of response bias. These findings suggest that “cancellation” may not be the rapid process assumed in the literature, and that perception of predicted action outcomes is initially “facilitated.” We speculate that the representation of our environment may in fact be optimized via two opposing processes: The primary process facilitates perception of events consistent with predictions and thereby helps us to perceive what is more likely, but a later process aids the perception of any detected events generating prediction errors to assist model updating.

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