Cortical hierarchies perform Bayesian causal inference in multisensory perception

Tim Rohe*, Uta Noppeney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

129 Citations (Scopus)


To form a veridical percept of the environment, the brain needs to integrate sensory signals from a common source but segregate those from independent sources. Thus, perception inherently relies on solving the “causal inference problem.” Behaviorally, humans solve this problem optimally as predicted by Bayesian Causal Inference; yet, the underlying neural mechanisms are unexplored. Combining psychophysics, Bayesian modeling, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and multivariate decoding in an audiovisual spatial localization task, we demonstrate that Bayesian Causal Inference is performed by a hierarchy of multisensory processes in the human brain. At the bottom of the hierarchy, in auditory and visual areas, location is represented on the basis that the two signals are generated by independent sources (= segregation). At the next stage, in posterior intraparietal sulcus, location is estimated under the assumption that the two signals are from a common source (= forced fusion). Only at the top of the hierarchy, in anterior intraparietal sulcus, the uncertainty about the causal structure of the world is taken into account and sensory signals are combined as predicted by Bayesian Causal Inference. Characterizing the computational operations of signal interactions reveals the hierarchical nature of multisensory perception in human neocortex. It unravels how the brain accomplishes Bayesian Causal Inference, a statistical computation fundamental for perception and cognition. Our results demonstrate how the brain combines information in the face of uncertainty about the underlying causal structure of the world.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1002073
JournalPLoS Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 24 Feb 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)


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