The Encoding of Temporally Irregular and Regular Visual Patterns in the Human Brain

In the work reported here, we set out to study the neural systems that detect predictable temporal patterns and departures from them. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to locate activity in the brains of subjects when they viewed temporally regular and irregular patterns produced by letters, numbers, colors and luminance. Activity induced by irregular sequences was located within dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, including an area that was responsive to irregular patterns regardless of the type of visual stimuli producing them. Conversely, temporally regular arrangements resulted in activity in the right frontal lobe (medial frontal gyrus), in the left orbito-frontal cortex and in the left pallidum. The results show that there is an abstractive system in the brain for detecting temporal irregularity, regardless of the source producing it.