Our environments are highly regular in terms of when and where objects appear relative to each other. Statistical learning allows us to extract and represent these regularities, but how this knowledge is used by the brain during ongoing perception is unclear. We used rapid event-related fMRI to measure hemodynamic responses to individual visual images in a continuous stream that contained sequential contingencies. Sixteen human observers encountered these statistical regularities while performing an unrelated cognitive task, and were unaware of their existence. Nevertheless, the right anterior hippocampus showed greater hemodynamic responses to predictive stimuli, providing evidence for implicit anticipation as a consequence of unsupervised statistical learning. Hippocampal anticipation based on predictive stimuli correlated with subsequent processing of the predicted stimuli in occipital and parietal cortex, and anticipation in additional brain regions correlated with facilitated object recognition as reflected in behavioral priming. Additional analyses suggested that implicit perceptual anticipation does not contribute to explicit familiarity, but can result in predictive potentiation of category-selective ventral visual cortex. Overall, these findings show that future-oriented processing can arise incidentally during the perception of statistical regularities.
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