Beta power encodes contextual estimates of temporal event probability in the human brain
To prepare for an impending event of unknown temporal distribution, humans internally increase the perceived probability of event onset as time elapses. This effect is termed the hazard rate of events. We tested how the neural encoding of hazard rate changes by providing human participants with prior information on temporal event probability. We recorded behavioral and electroencephalographic (EEG) data while participants listened to continuously repeating five-tone sequences, composed of four standard tones followed by a non-target deviant tone, delivered at slow (1.6 Hz) or fast (4 Hz) rates. The task was to detect a rare target tone, which equiprobably appeared at either position two, three or four of the repeating sequence. In this design, potential target position acts as a proxy for elapsed time. For participants uninformed about the target's distribution, elapsed time to uncertain target onset increased response speed, displaying a significant hazard rate effect at both slow and fast stimulus rates. However, only in fast sequences did prior information about the target's temporal distribution interact with elapsed time, suppressing the hazard rate. Importantly, in the fast, uninformed condition pre-stimulus power synchronization in the beta band (Beta 1, 15-19 Hz) predicted the hazard rate of response times. Prior information suppressed pre-stimulus power synchronization in the same band, while still significantly predicting response times. We conclude that Beta 1 power does not simply encode the hazard rate, but-more generally-internal estimates of temporal event probability based upon contextual information.