A reset of consciousness

ScienceDaily reports (here) on research by Zacks, Kurby, Eisenberg, and Haroutunian, Prediction Error Associated with the Perceptual Segmentation of Naturalistic Events, reported in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Zacks and his colleagues are building a theory of how predictive perception works. At the core of the theory is the belief that a good part of predicting the future is the maintenance of a mental model of what is happening now. Now and then, this model needs updating, especially when the environment changes unpredictably.

“When we watch everyday activity unfold around us, we make predictions about what will happen a few seconds out,” Zacks says. “Most of the time, our predictions are right.

“Successfull predictions are associated with the subjective experience of a smooth stream of consciousness. But a few times a minute, our predictions come out wrong and then we perceive a break in the stream of consciousness, accompanied by an uptick in activity of primitive parts of the brain involved with the MDS (mid-brain dopamine system) that regulate attention and adaptation to unpredicted changes.”

Here is the abstract:

Predicting the near future is important for survival and plays a central role in theories of perception, language processing, and learning. Prediction failures may be particularly important for initiating the updating of perceptual and memory systems and, thus, for the subjective experience of events. Here, we asked observers to make predictions about what would happen 5 sec later in a movie of an everyday activity. Those points where prediction was more difficult corresponded with subjective boundaries in the stream of experience. At points of unpredictability, midbrain and striatal regions associated with the phasic release of the neurotransmitter dopamine transiently increased in activity. This activity could provide a global updating signal, cuing other brain systems that a significant new event has begun.

When events are not what we expect, we probably have to, in effect, close one event and open a new one, store memories and start with a clear working memory, re-assess what we are perceiving – we have to ‘do a reset’ in the steam of consciousness.

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