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Decomposing neural responses to melodic surprise in musicians and non-musicians: evidence for a hierarchy of predictions in the auditory system

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Neural responses to auditory surprise are typically studied with highly unexpected, disruptive sounds. Consequently, little is known about auditory prediction in everyday contexts that are characterized by fine-grained, non-disruptive fluctuations of auditory surprise. To address this issue, we used IDyOM, a computational model of auditory expectation, to obtain continuous surprise estimates for a set of newly composed melodies. Our main goal was to assess whether the neural correlates of non-disruptive surprising sounds in a musical context are affected by musical expertise. Using magnetoencephalography (MEG), auditory responses were recorded from musicians and non-musicians while they listened to the melodies. Consistent with a previous study, the amplitude of the N1m component increased with higher levels of computationally estimated surprise. This effect, however, was not different between the two groups. Further analyses offered an explanation for this finding: Pitch interval size itself, rather than probabilistic prediction, was responsible for the modulation of the N1m, thus pointing to low-level sensory adaptation as the underlying mechanism. In turn, the formation of auditory regularities and proper probabilistic prediction were reflected in later components: the mismatch negativity (MMNm) and the P3am, respectively. Overall, our findings reveal a hierarchy of expectations in the auditory system and highlight the need to properly account for sensory adaptation in research addressing statistical learning.
Original languageEnglish
Article number116816
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2020

    Research areas

  • Surprise, IDyOM, music, prediction, hierarchy

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