Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award

Spring 5-13-2024

Document Type

Thesis (Ph.D.)

Department or Program

Cognitive Neuroscience

First Advisor

Tor D. Wager

Second Advisor

R. McKell Carter


Higher-order cognition, such as expectations about the future, cannot be studied in isolation from sensory representations. This thesis explores the dynamic interplay of higher-order cognition and sensory experiences, examining the important role of expectations across multiple domains: sensory, cognitive, and affective. First, a systematic review outlines the origins of higher-order cognitive functions – e.g., social interaction, memory, and attentional control – and how they arise at the convergence of hierarchically organized gradients that extend from primary sensory areas. These convergence zones are rich in information crucial for the human capacity for making projections, such as thinking about another person’s mental state or temporally navigating into past/future scenarios. Next, in order to investigate higher-order processes across multiple contexts, a large scale dataset is presented, with 400 scan sessions across six distinct cognitive tasks. The final two empirical chapters investigate the role of expectations, first in pain and then in other domains. The first study addresses how expectations affect pain perception, finding that it alters evaluative and nociceptive neural components in opposite directions. Evaluative components show greater activation with higher expectations and vice versa for nociceptive components. The second empirical study expands the investigation of expectations to multiple domains outside of pain, further delineating expectations as cue-based representations and subsequent modulatory effects on stimulus perception. This study found that expectations are domain-general and its modulatory effects are domain-specific. The nuanced understanding of expectations were only discernible via investigating different sensory modalities and acknowledging the roots of higher-order cognition in sensory representations.

Original Citation

Jung, H., Wager, T. D., & Carter, R. M. (2022). Novel cognitive functions arise at the convergence of macroscale gradients. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 34(3), 381-396. doi:

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