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Behavioural reports of sensory information are biased by stimulus history. The nature and direction of such serial-dependence biases can differ between experimental settings – both attractive and repulsive biases towards previous stimuli have been observed. How and when these biases arise in the human brain remains largely unexplored. They could occur either via a change in sensory processing itself and/or during post-perceptual processes such as maintenance or decision-making. To address this, we tested 20 participants (11 female) and analysed behavioural and magnetoencephalographic data from a working-memory task in which participants were sequentially presented with two randomly oriented gratings, one of which was cued for recall at the end of the trial. Behavioural responses showed evidence for two distinct biases: 1) a within-trial repulsive bias away from the previously encoded orientation on the same trial, and 2) a between-trial attractive bias towards the task-relevant orientation on the previous trial. Multivariate classification of stimulus orientation revealed that neural representations during stimulus encoding were biased away from the previous grating orientation, regardless of whether we considered the within- or between-trial prior orientation – despite opposite effects on behaviour. These results suggest that repulsive biases occur at the level of sensory processing and can be overridden at post-perceptual stages to result in attractive biases in behaviour.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT:Recent experience biases behavioural reports of sensory information, possibly capitalizing on the temporal regularity in our environment. It is still unclear at what stage of stimulus processing such serial biases arise. Here, we recorded behaviour and neurophysiological (MEG) data to test whether neural activity patterns during early sensory processing show the same biases seen in participants' reports. In a working-memory task that produced multiple biases in behaviour - responses were biased towards previous targets, but away from more recent stimuli - neural activity patterns were uniformly biased away from all previously relevant items. Our results contradict proposals that all serial biases arise at an early sensory processing stage. Instead, neural activity exhibited mostly adaptation-like responses to recent stimuli.

Original publication




Journal article


The Journal of Neuroscience


Society for Neuroscience

Publication Date