Emberson, L.E., Richards, J.E., & Aslin, R.N. (2015). Top-down modulation in the infant brain: Learning-induced expectations rapidly affect the sensory cortex at 6-months. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.(pdf )
Recent theoretical work emphasizes the role of expectation in neural processing, shifting the focus from feed-forward cortical hierarchies to models which include extensive feedback (e.g., predictive coding). Empirical support for expectation-related feedback is compelling but restricted to adult humans and non-human animals. Given the considerable differences in neural organization and efficiency between infant and adult brains, it is a crucial yet open question whether expectation-related feedback is an inherent property of the cortex (i.e., operational early in development) or whether expectation-related feedback develops with extensive experience and neural maturation. To determine whether an infant’s expectations about future sensory input modulates their sensory cortices without the confounds of stimulus novelty or repetition suppression, we employed a cross-modal (audiovisual) omission paradigm and used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to record hemodynamic responses in the infant cortex. We show that the occipital cortex of 6-month-old infants exhibits the signature of expectation-based feedback.