Ruhnau, P., Schröger, E., & Sussman, E. S. (2017). Implicit expectations influence target detection in children and adults. Dev Sci, 20(3), e12402.

Implicit expectations influence target detection in children and adults

When a sound occurs at a predictable time, it gets processed more efficiently. Predictability of the temporal structure of acoustic inflow has been found to influence the P3b of event-related potentials in young adults, such that highly predictable compared to less predictable input leads to earlier P3b peak latencies. In our study, we wanted to investigate the influence of predictability on target processing indexed by the P3b in children (10-12 years old) and young adults. To do that, we used an oddball paradigm with two conditions of predictability (high and low). In the High-predictability condition, a high-pitched target tone occurred most of the time in the fifth position of a five-tone pattern (after four low-pitched non-target sounds), whereas in the Low-predictability condition, no such rule was implemented. The target tone occurred randomly following 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 non-target tones. In both age groups, reaction time to predictable targets was faster than to non-predictable targets. Remarkably, this effect was largest in children. Consistent with the behavioral responses, the onset latency of the P3b response elicited by targets in both groups was earlier in the predictable than the unpredictable conditions. However, only the children had significantly earlier peak latency responses for predictable targets. Our results demonstrate that target stimulus predictability increases processing speed in children and adults even when predictability was only implicitly derived by the stimulus statistics. Children did have larger effects of predictability, seeming to benefit more from predictability for target detection.


Cognitive and Biological Psychology

University of Leipzig
Faculty of Biosciences, Pharmacy and Psychology
Institute of Psychology
Neumarkt 9-19
D-04109 Leipzig


Dagmar Schrödl
Phone: +49 341 97-39570
Email: dagmar dot schroedl at uni-leipzig dot de

Dorit Thieme
Phone: +49 341 97-39540
Email: d dot thieme at uni-leipzig dot de

Fax: +49 341 97-39271