When people see the beginning of an expected sequence, their brains automatically play the whole sequence in “fast-forward”, shows a study published this week in Nature Communications.
The visual system in humans and animals anticipates events, which can facilitate decision-making. Previous research has primarily been done in static contexts, for example, showing that we react faster to things that we are accustomed to encountering together, such as coffee and a bagel. However, in everyday life we are often faced with moving objects, such as cars, and have to anticipate their motion. To understand how the human brain anticipates such motion, Matthias Ekman and colleagues showed 29 healthy participants a sequence of dots. Using ultra-fast functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), they were able to describe the pattern of brain activity that accompanies these sequences. Then, they showed participants just the first dot of the sequence and found that the brain showed the same pattern of activity as when participants were watching the whole sequence, only this time in fast-forward. These results were confirmed in the same participants two weeks later.
These results suggest that preplaying anticipated events in fast-forward may be the way in which we are able to quickly and automatically anticipate the trajectories of moving things in everyday life.