A cortical network that marks the moment when conscious representations are updated

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Abstract

In order to survive in a complex, noisy and constantly changing environment we need to categorize the world (e.g., Is this food edible or poisonous?) and we need to update our interpretations when things change. How does our brain update when object categories change from one to the next? We investigated the neural correlates associated with this updating process. We used event-related fMRI while people viewed a sequence of images that morphed from one object (e.g., a plane) to another (e.g., a shark). All participants were naïve as to the identity of the second object. The point at which participants ‘saw’ the second object was unpredictable and uncontaminated by any dramatic or salient change to the images themselves. The moment when subjective perceptual representations changed activated a circumscribed network including the anterior insula, medial and inferior frontal regions and inferior parietal cortex. In a setting where neither the timing nor nature of the visual transition was predictable, this restricted cortical network signals the time of updating a perceptual representation. The anterior insula and mid-frontal regions (including the ACC) were activated not only at the actual time when change was reported, but also immediately before, suggesting that these areas are also involved in processing alternative options after a mismatch has been detected.

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