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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

February 2020, Vol. 32, No. 2, Pages 315-325
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01482)
© 2019 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
When Temporal Certainty Doesn't Help
Article PDF (609.25 KB)
In a dynamically changing environment, the ability to capture regularities in our sensory input helps us generate predictions about future events. In most sensory systems, the basic finding is clear: Knowing when something will happen improves performance on it [Nobre, A. C., & van Ede, F. (2017). Anticipated moments: Temporal structure in attention. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 19, 34–48, 2017]. We here examined the impact of temporal predictions on a less-explored modality: touch. Participants were instructed to detect a brief target embedded in an ongoing vibrotactile stimulus. Unbeknownst to them, the experiment had two timing conditions: In one part, the time of target onset was fixed and thus temporally predictable, whereas in the other, it could appear at a random time within the ongoing stimulation. We found a clear modulation of detection thresholds due to temporal predictability: Contrary to other sensory systems, detecting a predictable tactile target was worse relative to unpredictable targets. We discuss our findings within the framework of tactile suppression.