Previous investigations concluded that the human brain’s information processing rate remains fundamentally constant, irrespective of task demands. However, their conclusion rested in analyses of simple discrete-choice tasks. The present contribution recasts the question of human information rate within the context of visuomotor tasks, which provides a more ecologically relevant arena, albeit a more complex one. We argue that, while predictable aspects of inputs can be encoded virtually free of charge, real-time information transfer should be identified with the processing of surprises. We formalise this intuition by deriving from first principles a decomposition of the total information shared by inputs and outputs into a feedforward, predictive component and a feedback, error-correcting component. We find that the information measured by the feedback component, a proxy for the brain’s information processing rate, scales with the difficulty of the task at hand, in agreement with cost-benefit models of cognitive effort.
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