Differential roles for parietal and frontal cortices in fixed versus evolving temporal expectations: Dissociating prior from posterior temporal probabilities with fMRI


  • Coull Jennifer T
  • Cotti Julien
  • Vidal Franck


  • Timing
  • Attention
  • Frontal
  • Parietal
  • Prediction
  • Expectation
  • Foreperiod

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The ability to predict when an event will occur allows us to respond optimally to that event. Temporal predictability can be either fixed (prior probability) or evolving (posterior probability), in which case it is dynamically updated as a function of the elapse of time itself (“hazard function”). We used fMRI to identify the brain regions involved in either form of temporal prediction, within a single experimental paradigm. Participants performed a cued reaction time (RT) task, in which the target appeared after one of four intervals (“foreperiods”) that was either predictable (temporal condition) or variable (neutral condition). As expected, RTs were faster in temporal versus neutral conditions, indicating the behavioural benefit of fixed temporal predictability. RTs also got faster as a function of foreperiod in the neutral, but not temporal, condition, reflecting the evolving temporal predictability of the hazard function. We confirmed that left inferior parietal cortex was preferentially activated by the fixed temporal predictability of temporal (versus neutral) cues. Then, by directly comparing how activity varied as a function of foreperiod in the neutral versus time conditions, we identified the neural substrates of the changes in temporal probability defined by the hazard function, whilst simultaneously controlling for changes related simply to the elapse of time itself. Whole-brain fMRI analyses (independently confirmed by anatomically guided ROI analyses) showed that activity in left inferior parietal cortex tracked the evolving temporal probabilities of the hazard function. ROI analysis further revealed a similar role for right inferior frontal cortex. Our data highlight a key role for left parietal cortex in instantiating the behavioural benefits of temporal predictability, whether predictions are fixed or dynamically evolving.

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