Perceptual decisions can be made when sensory input affords an inference about what generated that input. Here, we report findings from two independent perceptual experiments conducted during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with a sparse event-related design. The first experiment, in the visual modality, involved forced-choice discrimination of coherence in random dot kinematograms that contained either subliminal or periliminal motion coherence. The second experiment, in the auditory domain, involved free response detection of (non-semantic) near-threshold acoustic stimuli. We analysed fluctuations in ongoing neural activity, as indexed by fMRI, and found that neuronal activity in sensory areas (extrastriate visual and early auditory cortex) biases perceptual decisions towards correct inference and not towards a specific percept. Hits (detection of near-threshold stimuli) were preceded by significantly higher activity than both misses of identical stimuli or false alarms, in which percepts arise in the absence of appropriate sensory input. In accord with predictive coding models and the free-energy principle, this observation suggests that cortical activity in sensory brain areas reflects the precision of prediction errors and not just the sensory evidence or prediction errors per se.
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