Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The significance of stimuli is linked not only to their nature but also to the sequential structure in which they are embedded, which gives rise to contingency rules. Humans have an extraordinary ability to extract and exploit these rules, as exemplified by the role of grammar and syntax in language. To study the brain representations of contingency rules, we recorded ERPs and event-related optical signal (EROS; which uses near-infrared light to measure the optical changes associated with neuronal responses). We used sequences of high- and low-frequency tones varying according to three contingency rules, which were orthogonally manipulated and differed in processing requirements: A Single Repetition rule required only template matching, a Local Probability rule required relating a stimulus to its context, and a Global Probability rule could be derived through template matching or with reference to the global sequence context. ERP activity at 200–300 msec was related to the Single Repetition and Global Probability rules (reflecting access to representations based on template matching), whereas longer-latency activity (300-450 msec) was related to the Local Probability and Global Probability rules (reflecting access to representations incorporating contextual information). EROS responses with corresponding latencies indicated that the earlier activity involved the superior temporal gyrus, whereas later responses involved a fronto-parietal network. This suggests that the brain can simultaneously hold different models of stimulus contingencies at different levels of the information processing system according to their processing requirements, as indicated by the latency and location of the corresponding brain activity.