Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be able to predict the future like the jedi in Star Wars? Wonder no more! As it turns out, humans have their own built-in mechanisms for predicting what’s coming, to a slightly less force-related but still impressive extent. The human brain shows a phenomenon called predictive coding: a mathematical process that aims to predict future outcomes based on prior historical data. Studies have shown that the human brain, when familiarized with a particular movement sequence, will recreate the whole movement when presented with a single frame out of the familiarized sequence (without any movement actually occurring).
In order to investigate what purposes this impressive ability serves, we are conducting a study on the population of psychology students at our university. Students are presented with a reaction time task, involving a disc moving at a constant speed, which disappears behind an occluder and then reappears after a while. While being occluded the disc moves either at a constant, faster, or slower speed than before. We predict that, when the disc moves as anticipated by the students, their reaction time should be enhanced. Furthermore, they are given a detection task: the same stimulus is presented, but now on ⅓ of all trials, we quickly flash a red dot inside the moving disc upon reappearance. We expect that, if the disc moves at a constant speed as expected, students will perform better at detecting the red dot.
The results of this experiment should tell us if predictive brain activity makes it easier to detect discrepancies and irregularities in our environment, as well as respond faster to the outside world. This could explain an evolutionary advantage to predictive activity for our survival as a species.