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Comprehension of degraded speech requires higher-order expectations informed by prior knowledge. Accurate top-down expectations of incoming degraded speech cause a subjective semantic 'pop-out' or conscious breakthrough experience. Indeed, the same stimulus can be perceived as meaningless when no expectations are made in advance. We investigated the event-related potential (ERP) correlates of these top-down expectations, their error signals and the subjective pop-out experience in healthy participants. We manipulated expectations in a word-pair priming degraded (noise-vocoded) speech task and investigated the role of top-down expectation with a between-groups attention manipulation. Consistent with the role of expectations in comprehension, repetition priming significantly enhanced perceptual intelligibility of the noise-vocoded degraded targets for attentive participants. An early ERP was larger for mismatched (i.e. unexpected) targets than matched targets, indicative of an initial error signal not reliant on top-down expectations. Subsequently, a P3a-like ERP was larger to matched targets than mismatched targets only for attending participants-i.e. a pop-out effect-while a later ERP was larger for mismatched targets and did not significantly interact with attention. Rather than relying on complex post hoc interactions between prediction error and precision to explain this apredictive pattern, we consider our data to be consistent with prediction error minimization accounts for early stages of processing followed by Global Neuronal Workspace-like breakthrough and processing in service of task goals.
- conscious pop-out
- prediction error minimization
- global neuronal workspace breakthrough
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