Rapid extraction of auditory feature contingencies

Alexandra Bendixen, Wolfgang Prinz, János Horváth, Nelson J. Trujillo-Barreto, Erich Schröger

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Contingent relations between sensory events render the environment predictable and thus facilitate adaptive behavior. The human capacity to detect such relations has been comprehensively demonstrated in paradigms in which contingency rules were task-relevant or in which they applied to motor behavior. The extent to which contingencies can also be extracted from events that are unrelated to the current goals of the organism has remained largely unclear. The present study addressed the emergence of contingency-related effects for behaviorally irrelevant auditory stimuli and the cortical areas involved in the processing of such contingency rules. Contingent relations between different features of temporally separate events were embedded in a new dynamic protocol. Participants were presented with the auditory stimulus sequences while their attention was captured by a video. The mismatch negativity (MMN) component of the event-related brain potential (ERP) was employed as an electrophysiological correlate of contingency detection. MMN generators were localized by means of scalp current density (SCD) and primary current density (PCD) analyses with variable resolution electromagnetic tomography (VARETA). Results show that task-irrelevant contingencies can be extracted from about fifteen to twenty successive events conforming to the contingent relation. Topographic and tomographic analyses reveal the involvement of the auditory cortex in the processing of contingency violations. The present data provide evidence for the rapid encoding of complex extrapolative relations in sensory areas. This capacity is of fundamental importance for the organism in its attempt to model the sensory environment outside the focus of attention. © 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1111-1119
    Number of pages8
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2008


    • Abstract rule encoding
    • Attention
    • Auditory sensory memory
    • Contingency learning
    • Deviance detection
    • Dynamic stimulus sequences
    • Event-related potentials (ERP)
    • Mismatch negativity (MMN)
    • Scalp current density (SCD)
    • Variable resolution electromagnetic tomography (VARETA)


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