1. Neuroscience
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Anticipation of temporally structured events in the brain

  1. Caroline S Lee
  2. Mariam Aly
  3. Christopher Baldassano  Is a corresponding author
  1. Columbia University, United States
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2021;10:e64972 doi: 10.7554/eLife.64972


Learning about temporal structure is adaptive because it enables the generation of expectations. We examined how the brain uses experience in structured environments to anticipate upcoming events. During fMRI, individuals watched a 90-second movie clip six times. Using a Hidden Markov Model applied to searchlights across the whole brain, we identified temporal shifts between activity patterns evoked by the first vs. repeated viewings of the movie clip. In many regions throughout the cortex, neural activity patterns for repeated viewings shifted to precede those of initial viewing by up to 15 seconds. This anticipation varied hierarchically in a posterior (less anticipation) to anterior (more anticipation) fashion. We also identified specific regions in which the timing of the brain's event boundaries were related to those of human-labeled event boundaries, with the timing of this relationship shifting on repeated viewings. With repeated viewing, the brain's event boundaries came to precede human-annotated boundaries by 1-4 seconds on average. Together, these results demonstrate a hierarchy of anticipatory signals in the human brain and link them to subjective experiences of events.

Data availability

We used a publicly-available dataset, from https://openneuro.org/datasets/ds001545/versions/1.1.1

The following previously published data sets were used

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Caroline S Lee

    Department of Psychology, Columbia University, New York, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  2. Mariam Aly

    Psychology, Columbia University, New York, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-4033-6134
  3. Christopher Baldassano

    Psychology, Columbia University, New York, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-3540-5019


The authors declare that there was no funding for this work.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Marius V Peelen, Radboud University, Netherlands

Publication history

  1. Received: November 17, 2020
  2. Accepted: April 21, 2021
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: April 22, 2021 (version 1)


© 2021, Lee et al.

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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