Violations of physical and psychological expectations in the human adult brain

Abstract | When adults see one solid object pass through another, or see a person take the long route to a destination when a short-cut was available, we classify those events as surprising. Infants look longer at the same unexpected outcomes, compared with visually similar but expected outcomes, in violation-of-expectation (VOE) experiments. What domain-specific and domain-general cognitive processes support these judgments? In a pre-registered experiment, we scanned 32 adults using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they watched videos designed for infant research. One region implicated in physical reasoning responded selectively to unexpected physical events, providing evidence for domain-specific physical prediction error. Multiple demand regions responded more to unexpected events regardless of domain, providing evidence for domain-general goal-directed attention. Early visual regions responded equally to unexpected and expected events, providing evidence against stimulus-driven prediction error. Thus, in adults, VOE involves domain-specific, and high-level, domain-general computations.

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