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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

September 2016, Vol. 28, No. 9, Pages 1318-1330
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00973)
© 2016 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Rhythmic Influence of Top–Down Perceptual Priors in the Phase of Prestimulus Occipital Alpha Oscillations
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Prior expectations have a powerful influence on perception, biasing both decision and confidence. However, how this occurs at the neural level remains unclear. It has been suggested that spontaneous alpha-band neural oscillations represent rhythms of the perceptual system that periodically modulate perceptual judgments. We hypothesized that these oscillations instantiate the effects of expectations. While collecting scalp EEG, participants performed a detection task that orthogonally manipulated perceptual expectations and attention. Trial-by-trial retrospective confidence judgments were also collected. Results showed that, independent of attention, prestimulus occipital alpha phase predicted the weighting of expectations on yes/no decisions. Moreover, phase predicted the influence of expectations on confidence. Thus, expectations periodically bias objective and subjective perceptual decision-making together before stimulus onset. Our results suggest that alpha-band neural oscillations periodically transmit prior evidence to visual cortex, changing the baseline from which evidence accumulation begins. In turn, our results inform accounts of how expectations shape early visual processing.