On Quantifying Surprise: The Variation in Event-Related Potentials with Subjective Probability

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EEG, Auditory event‐related potential, P300, N200, Discriminant analysis, Sequential dependencies, Expectancy

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Two factors are known to determine the waveform of event‐related potentials (ERP) elicited by task‐relevant stimuli: the a priori probability of the stimuli and the sequence of immediately preceding stimuli. The relative contribution of these factors to the ERP waveform was assessed at nine levels of a priori probability (from .10 to .90). Random sequences of high (1500 Hz) and low (1000 Hz) tones were presented to 10 male subjects at each level of probability, both when the events were task‐relevant and when the subjects were performing an alternate task to which the tones were irrelevant. The EEG was recorded from five midline electrode sites referred to linked mastoids.

The amplitude of the P300 and Slow Wave components was inversely proportional to the a priori probability of task‐relevant events. At every level of a priori probability, the magnitude of the P300 complex (N200‐P300‐Slow Wave) was diminished when the eliciting tone repeated the preceding tone, and was enhanced when it was preceded by the other tone. Thus, a priori probability and sequential structure appear to be independent determinants of the P300 complex.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Psychophysiology, v. 14, issue 5, p. 456-467.