Performance improves when participants respond to events that are structured in repeating sequences, suggesting that learning can lead to proactive anticipatory preparation. Whereas most sequence-learning studies have emphasised spatial structure, most sequences also contain a prominent temporal structure. We used MEG to investigate spatial and temporal anticipatory neural dynamics in a modified serial reaction time (SRT) task. Performance and brain activity were compared between blocks with learned spatial-temporal sequences and blocks with new sequences. After confirming a strong behavioural benefit of spatial-temporal predictability, we show lateralisation of beta oscillations in anticipation of the response associated with the upcoming target location and show that this also aligns to the expected timing of these forthcoming events. This effect was found both when comparing between repeated (learned) and new (unlearned) sequences, as well as when comparing targets that were expected after short vs. long intervals within the repeated (learned) sequence. Our findings suggest that learning of spatial-temporal structure leads to proactive and dynamic modulation of motor cortical excitability in anticipation of both the location and timing of events that are relevant to guide action.
Eur J Neurosci
magnetoencephalography, beta oscillations, sequence learning, serial reaction time task, temporal orienting