Deficits in Top-Down Sensory Prediction in Infants At Risk due to Premature Birth

Lauren L. Emberson, Alex M. Boldin, Julie E. Riccio, Ronnie Guillet, Richard N. Aslin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


A prominent theoretical view is that the brain is inherently predictive [1, 2] and that prediction helps drive the engine of development [3, 4]. Although infants exhibit neural signatures of top-down sensory prediction [5, 6], in order to establish that prediction supports development, it must be established that deficits in early prediction abilities alter trajectories. We investigated prediction in infants born prematurely, a leading cause of neuro-cognitive impairment worldwide [7]. Prematurity, independent of medical complications, leads to developmental disturbances [8–12] and a broad range of developmental delays [13–17]. Is an alteration in early prediction abilities the common cause? Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), we measured top-down sensory prediction in preterm infants (born <33 weeks gestation) before infants exhibited clinically identifiable developmental delays (6 months corrected age). Whereas preterm infants had typical neural responses to presented visual stimuli, they exhibited altered neural responses to predicted visual stimuli. Importantly, a separate behavioral control confirmed that preterm infants detect pattern violations at the same rate as full-terms, establishing selectivity of this response to top-down predictions (e.g., not in learning an audiovisual association). These findings suggest that top-down sensory prediction plays a crucial role in development and that deficits in this ability may be the reason why preterm infants experience altered developmental trajectories and are at risk for poor developmental outcomes. Moreover, this work presents an opportunity for establishing a neuro-biomarker for early identification of infants at risk and could guide early intervention regimens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)431-436
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 6 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • audiovisual
  • development
  • fNIRS
  • infant
  • learning
  • multisensory
  • perception
  • prediction
  • prematurity


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