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Statistical learning attenuates visual activity only for attended stimuli

  1. David Richter  Is a corresponding author
  2. Floris P de Lange
  1. Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2019;8:e47869 doi: 10.7554/eLife.47869


Perception and behavior can be guided by predictions, which are often based on learned statistical regularities. Neural responses to expected stimuli are frequently found to be attenuated after statistical learning. However, whether this sensory attenuation following statistical learning occurs automatically or depends on attention remains unknown. In the present fMRI study, we exposed human volunteers to sequentially presented object stimuli, in which the first object predicted the identity of the second object. We observed a reliable attenuation of neural activity for expected compared to unexpected stimuli in the ventral visual stream. Crucially, this sensory attenuation was only apparent when stimuli were attended, and vanished when attention was directed away from the predictable objects. These results put important constraints on neurocomputational theories that cast perception as a process of probabilistic integration of prior knowledge and sensory information.

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Author details

  1. David Richter

    Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Netherlands
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-3404-8374
  2. Floris P de Lange

    Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    Floris P de Lange, Reviewing editor, eLife.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-6730-1452


Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (Vidi Grant 452-13-016)

  • Floris P de Lange

Horizon 2020 Framework Programme (ERC Starting Grant 678286)

  • Floris P de Lange

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.


Human subjects: The study followed institutional guidelines of the local ethics committee (CMO region Arnhem-Nijmegen, The Netherlands; Protocol CMO2014/288), including informed consent of all participants.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Thorsten Kahnt, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: April 23, 2019
  2. Accepted: August 21, 2019
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: August 23, 2019 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: September 6, 2019 (version 2)


© 2019, Richter & de Lange

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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