Monitoring prediction errors facilitates cognition in action

John Plass*, Simon Choi, Satoru Suzuki, Marcia Grabowecky

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cognition in action requires strategic allocation of attention between internal processes and the sensory environment. We hypothesized that this resource allocation could be facilitated by mechanisms that predict sensory results of self-generated actions. Sensory signals conforming to predictions would be safely ignored to facilitate focus on internally generated content, whereas those violating predictions would draw attention for additional scrutiny. During a visual-verbal serial digit-recall task, we varied the temporal relationship between task-irrelevant keypresses and auditory distractors so that the distractors were either temporally coupled or decoupled with keypresses. Consistent with our hypothesis, distractors were more likely to interfere with target maintenance and intrude into working memory when they were decoupled from keypresses, thereby violating action-based sensory predictions. Interference was maximal when sounds preceded keypresses, suggesting that stimuli were most distracting when their timing was inconsistent with expected action-sensation contingencies. In a follow-up experiment, neither auditory nor visual cues to distractor timing produced similar effects, suggesting a unique action-based mechanism. These results suggest that action-based sensory predictions are used to dynamically optimize attentional allocation during cognition in action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1665-1674
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2019


  • Attention
  • Cognition
  • Motor
  • Prediction
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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