Effects of awareness and task relevance on neurocomputational models of mismatch negativity generation
Detection of regularities and their violations in sensory input is key to perception. Violations are indexed by an early EEG component called the mismatch negativity (MMN) – even if participants are distracted or unaware of the stimuli. On a mechanistic level, two dominant models have been suggested to contribute to the MMN: adaptation and prediction. Whether and how context conditions, such as awareness and task relevance, modulate the mechanisms of MMN generation is unknown. We conducted an EEG study disentangling influences of task relevance and awareness on the visual MMN. Then, we estimated different computational models for the generation of single-trial amplitudes in the MMN time window. Amplitudes were best explained by a prediction error model when stimuli were task-relevant but by an adaptation model when task-irrelevant and unaware. Thus, mismatch generation does not rely on one predominant mechanism but mechanisms vary with task relevance of stimuli.