The Neural Mechanisms of Prediction in Visual Search

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Eelke Spaak
  • Yvonne Fonken
  • Ole Jensen
  • Floris P. de Lange

External organisations

  • Radboud University


The speed of visual search depends on bottom-up stimulus features (e.g., we quickly locate a red item among blue distractors), but it is also facilitated by the presence of top-down perceptual predictions about the item. Here, we identify the nature, source, and neuronal substrate of the predictions that speed up resumed visual search. Human subjects were presented with a visual search array that was repeated up to 4 times, while brain activity was recorded using magnetoencephalography (MEG). Behaviorally, we observed a bimodal reaction time distribution for resumed visual search, indicating that subjects were extraordinarily rapid on a proportion of trials. MEG data demonstrated that these rapid-response trials were associated with a prediction of (1) target location, as reflected by alpha-band (8-12 Hz) lateralization; and (2) target identity, as reflected by beta-band (15-30 Hz) lateralization. Moreover, we show that these predictions are likely generated in a network consisting of medial superior frontal cortex and right temporo-parietal junction. These findings underscore the importance and nature of perceptual hypotheses for efficient visual search.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4327-4336
Number of pages10
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number11
Early online date22 Sep 2015
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2016


  • expectation, MEG, perception, rapid resumption, visual search