The Effect of Probabilistic Context on Implicit Temporal Expectations in Down Syndrome

Giovanni Mento, Gaia Scerif, Umberto Granziol, Malida Franzoi, Silvia Lanfranchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


One of the most important sources of predictability that human beings can exploit to create an internal representation of the external environment is the ability to implicitly build up subjective statistics of events’ temporal structure and, consequently, use this knowledge to prepare for future actions. Stimulus expectancy can be subjectively shaped by hierarchically nested sources of prediction, capitalizing on either local or global probabilistic rules. In order to better understand the nature of local-global proactive motor control in Down Syndrome, in the present study a group of participants with Down Syndrome (DS group; n = 28; mean age 29.5 ± 13 years; range 10–54) and a group of typically developing participants matched by either gender or mental age (TD-MA group; n = 28; 5.6 ± 1 years; range 4–8) were administered a novel motor preparation task, defined as the Dynamic Temporal Prediction (DTP) task. In the DTP, the temporal preparation to imperative stimuli is implicitly shaped by the local increase of expectancy. This is manipulated trial-by-trial as a function of the preparatory foreperiod interval (Stimulus-Onset Asynchrony or SOA). In addition, temporal preparation can be also implicitly adjusted as a function of global predictive context, so that a block-wise SOA-distribution bias toward a given preparatory interval might determine a high-order source of expectancy, with functional consequences on proactive motor control adjustment. Results showed that in both groups motor preparation was biased by temporal expectancy when this was locally manipulated within-trials. By contrast, only the TD-MA group was sensitive to global rule changes: only in this cohort was behavioral performance overall impacted by the SOA probabilistic distribution manipulated between-blocks. The evidence of a local-global dissociation in DS suggests that the use of flexible cognitive mechanisms to implicitly extract high-order probabilistic rules in order to build-up an internal model of the temporal properties of events is disrupted in this developmental disorder. Moreover, since the content of the information to be processed in the DTP task was neither verbal nor spatial, we suggest that atypical global processing in Down Syndrome is a domain-general rather than specific aspect characterizing the cognitive profile of this population.

Original languageEnglish
Article number369
Number of pages10
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Mar 6 2020


  • down syndrome
  • dynamic temporal prediction task
  • local-global processing
  • proactive motor control
  • temporal expectations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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