Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Thesis defense Chuyao Yan (Donders series 572)

15 September 2022

Promotor: Prof. dr. F.P. de Lange
Copromotor: Dr. D. Richter

The interplay between prior knowledge and sensation in perception

Perception is not acting as a scientific instrument measuring the sensory inputs from the world. Instead, it is constructed in a way that is heavily informed by prior knowledge. In this thesis, I investigated how various forms of prior knowledge influence perception and sensory processing across the visual hierarchy. To this end, I employed fMRI experiments to examine how our brains generate predictions and how such predictions modulate perceptual processing by using stimuli at different levels of complexity, from the simple visual features to the abstract concepts. I found that humans tend to construct predictions at a global level that combines individual items into a higher-level structured representation. Moreover, predictive processing is not constrained by physical inputs only but is able to integrate information at the conceptual level, thereby making it easier to generalize the learned regularities to novel situations. Together, these findings deepen our understanding of how anticipatory mechanisms operate in complex environments.