The role of premature evidence accumulation in making difficult perceptual decisions under temporal uncertainty.
ABSTRACT: The computations and neural processes underpinning decision making have primarily been investigated using highly simplified tasks in which stimulus onsets cue observers to start accumulating choice-relevant information. Yet, in daily life we are rarely afforded the luxury of knowing precisely when choice-relevant information will appear. Here, we examined neural indices of decision formation while subjects discriminated subtle stimulus feature changes whose timing relative to stimulus onset ('foreperiod') was uncertain. Joint analysis of behavioural error patterns and neural decision signal dynamics indicated that subjects systematically began the accumulation process before any informative evidence was presented, and further, that accumulation onset timing varied systematically as a function of the foreperiod of the preceding trial. These results suggest that the brain can adjust to temporal uncertainty by strategically modulating accumulation onset timing according to statistical regularities in the temporal structure of the sensory environment with particular emphasis on recent experience.
Project description:Sensory responses of the brain are known to be highly variable, but the origin and functional relevance of this variability have long remained enigmatic. Using the variable foreperiod of a visual discrimination task to assess variability in the primate cerebral cortex, we report that visual evoked response variability is not only tied to variability in ongoing cortical activity, but also predicts mean response time. We used cortical local field potentials, simultaneously recorded from widespread cortical areas, to gauge both ongoing and visually evoked activity. Trial-to-trial variability of sensory evoked responses was strongly modulated by foreperiod duration and correlated both with the cortical variability before stimulus onset as well as with response times. In a separate set of experiments we probed the relation between small saccadic eye movements, foreperiod duration and manual response times. The rate of eye movements was modulated by foreperiod duration and eye position variability was positively correlated with response times. Our results indicate that when the time of a sensory stimulus is predictable, reduction in cortical variability before the stimulus can improve normal behavioral function that depends on the stimulus.
Project description:Dorsal premotor cortex is implicated in somatomotor decisions. However, we do not understand the temporal patterns and laminar organization of decision-related firing rates in dorsal premotor cortex. We recorded neurons from dorsal premotor cortex of monkeys performing a visual discrimination task with reaches as the behavioral report. We show that these neurons can be organized along a bidirectional visuomotor continuum based on task-related firing rates. "Increased" neurons at one end of the continuum increased their firing rates ~150?ms after stimulus onset and these firing rates covaried systematically with choice, stimulus difficulty, and reaction time-characteristics of a candidate decision variable. "Decreased" neurons at the other end of the continuum reduced their firing rate after stimulus onset, while "perimovement" neurons at the center of the continuum responded only ~150?ms before movement initiation. These neurons did not show decision variable-like characteristics. "Increased" neurons were more prevalent in superficial layers of dorsal premotor cortex; deeper layers contained more "decreased" and "perimovement" neurons. These results suggest a laminar organization for decision-related responses in dorsal premotor cortex.Dorsal premotor cortex (PMd) is thought to be involved in making somatomotor decisions. Chandrasekaran et al. investigated the temporal response dynamics of PMd neurons across cortical layers and show stronger and earlier decision-related responses in the superficial layers and more action execution-related signals in the deeper layers.
Project description:Decision-making is in the service of action regardless of whether the decision concerns perceptual information, goods or memories. Compared to recent advances in the neurobiology of perceptual or value-based decisions, however, the neural bases supporting the sampling of evidence in long-term memory, and the transformation of memory-based decisions into appropriate actions, are still poorly understood. In the present fMRI study, we used multivariate pattern analysis to investigate the temporal dynamics of choice- and action-predictive signals during an item recognition task that manipulated the association between memory choices (old/new) and motor responses (eye/hand) across subjects. Choice-predictive activity was mainly observed in striatal, lateral prefrontal and lateral parietal regions, was sensitive to the amount of decision evidence and showed a rapid increase after stimulus onset, followed by a fast decay. Action-predictive signals were found in primary sensory motor, premotor and occipito-parietal regions, were generally observed at the end of the decision phase and were not modulated by decision evidence. These findings suggest that a memory decision variable, potentially represented in a fronto-striato-parietal network, is not directly transformed into an action plan as often observed in perceptual decisions. Regions exhibiting choice predictive activity, and especially the striatum, however, also showed a second peak of decision-related activity that, unlike pure choice- or action-predictive signals, depended on the particular choice-response association. This second peak of activity in the striatum might represent the neural signature of the transformation of a memory decision into an appropriate motor response based on the specific choice-response association.
Project description:Auditory perceptual decisions are thought to be mediated by the ventral auditory pathway. However, the specific and causal contributions of different brain regions in this pathway, including the middle-lateral (ML) and anterolateral (AL) belt regions of the auditory cortex, to auditory decisions have not been fully identified. To identify these contributions, we recorded from and microstimulated ML and AL sites while monkeys decided whether an auditory stimulus contained more low-frequency or high-frequency tone bursts. Both ML and AL neural activity was modulated by the frequency content of the stimulus. But, only the responses of the most stimulus-sensitive AL neurons were systematically modulated by the monkeys' choices. Consistent with this observation, microstimulation of AL, but not ML, systematically biased the monkeys' behavior toward the choice associated with the preferred frequency of the stimulated site. Together, these findings suggest that AL directly and causally contributes sensory evidence to form this auditory decision.
Project description:During a perceptual decision, neuronal activity can change as a function of time-integrated evidence. Such neurons may serve as decision variables, signaling a choice when activity reaches a boundary. Because the signals occur on a millisecond timescale, translating to human decision-making using functional neuroimaging has been challenging. Previous neuroimaging work in humans has identified patterns of neural activity consistent with an accumulation account. However, the degree to which the accumulating neuroimaging signals reflect specific sources of perceptual evidence is unknown. Using an extended face/house discrimination task in conjunction with cognitive modeling, we tested whether accumulation signals, as measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), are stimulus-specific. Accumulation signals were defined as a change in the slope of the rising edge of activation corresponding with response time (RT), with higher slopes associated with faster RTs. Consistent with an accumulation account, fMRI activity in face- and house-selective regions in the inferior temporal cortex increased at a rate proportional to decision time in favor of the preferred stimulus. This finding indicates that stimulus-specific regions perform an evidence integrative function during goal-directed behavior and that different sources of evidence accumulate separately. We also assessed the decision-related function of other regions throughout the brain and found that several regions were consistent with classifications from prior work, suggesting a degree of domain generality in decision processing. Taken together, these results provide support for an integration-to-boundary decision mechanism and highlight possible roles of both domain-specific and domain-general regions in decision evidence evaluation.
Project description:Perceptual decision-making is biased by previous events, including the history of preceding choices: observers tend to repeat (or alternate) their judgments of the sensory environment more often than expected by chance. Computational models postulate that these so-called choice history biases result from the accumulation of internal decision signals across trials. Here, we provide psychophysical evidence for such a mechanism and its adaptive utility. Male and female human observers performed different variants of a challenging visual motion discrimination task near psychophysical threshold. In a first experiment, we decoupled categorical perceptual choices and motor responses on a trial-by-trial basis. Choice history bias was explained by previous perceptual choices, not motor responses, highlighting the importance of internal decision signals in action-independent formats. In a second experiment, observers performed the task in stimulus environments containing different levels of autocorrelation and providing no external feedback about choice correctness. Despite performing under overall high levels of uncertainty, observers adjusted both the strength and the sign of their choice history biases to these environments. When stimulus sequences were dominated by either repetitions or alternations, the individual degree of this adjustment of history bias was about as good a predictor of individual performance as individual perceptual sensitivity. The history bias adjustment scaled with two proxies for observers' confidence about their previous choices (accuracy and reaction time). Together, our results are consistent with the idea that action-independent, confidence-modulated decision variables are accumulated across choices in a flexible manner that depends on decision-makers' model of their environment.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Decisions based on sensory input are often influenced by the history of one's preceding choices, manifesting as a bias to systematically repeat (or alternate) choices. We here provide support for the idea that such choice history biases arise from the context-dependent accumulation of a quantity referred to as the decision variable: the variable's sign dictates the choice and its magnitude the confidence about choice correctness. We show that choices are accumulated in an action-independent format and a context-dependent manner, weighted by the confidence about their correctness. This confidence-weighted accumulation of choices enables decision-makers to flexibly adjust their behavior to different sensory environments. The bias adjustment can be as important for optimizing performance as one's sensitivity to the momentary sensory input.
Project description:Gradual accumulation of evidence is thought to be fundamental for decision-making, and its neural correlates have been found in several brain regions. Here we develop a generalizable method to measure tuning curves that specify the relationship between neural responses and mentally accumulated evidence, and apply it to distinguish the encoding of decision variables in posterior parietal cortex and prefrontal cortex (frontal orienting fields, FOF). We recorded the firing rates of neurons in posterior parietal cortex and FOF from rats performing a perceptual decision-making task. Classical analyses uncovered correlates of accumulating evidence, similar to previous observations in primates and also similar across the two regions. However, tuning curve assays revealed that while the posterior parietal cortex encodes a graded value of the accumulating evidence, the FOF has a more categorical encoding that indicates, throughout the trial, the decision provisionally favoured by the evidence accumulated so far. Contrary to current views, this suggests that premotor activity in the frontal cortex does not have a role in the accumulation process, but instead has a more categorical function, such as transforming accumulated evidence into a discrete choice. To probe causally the role of FOF activity, we optogenetically silenced it during different time points of the trial. Consistent with a role in committing to a categorical choice at the end of the evidence accumulation process, but not consistent with a role during the accumulation itself, a behavioural effect was observed only when FOF silencing occurred at the end of the perceptual stimulus. Our results place important constraints on the circuit logic of brain regions involved in decision-making.
Project description:Choice confidence, an individual's internal estimate of judgment accuracy, plays a critical role in adaptive behaviour, yet its neural representations during decision formation remain underexplored. Here, we recorded simultaneous EEG-fMRI while participants performed a direction discrimination task and rated their confidence on each trial. Using multivariate single-trial discriminant analysis of the EEG, we identified a stimulus-independent component encoding confidence, which appeared prior to subjects' explicit choice and confidence report, and was consistent with a confidence measure predicted by an accumulation-to-bound model of decision-making. Importantly, trial-to-trial variability in this electrophysiologically-derived confidence signal was uniquely associated with fMRI responses in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), a region not typically associated with confidence for perceptual decisions. Furthermore, activity in the VMPFC was functionally coupled with regions of the frontal cortex linked to perceptual decision-making and metacognition. Our results suggest that the VMPFC holds an early confidence representation arising from decision dynamics, preceding and potentially informing metacognitive evaluation.
Project description:Adaptive behavior requires integrating prior with current information to anticipate upcoming events. Brain structures related to this computation should bring relevant signals from the recent past into the present. Here we report that rats can integrate the most recent prior information with sensory information, thereby improving behavior on a perceptual decision-making task with outcome-dependent past trial history. We find that anticipatory signals in the orbitofrontal cortex about upcoming choice increase over time and are even present before stimulus onset. These neuronal signals also represent the stimulus and relevant second-order combinations of past state variables. The encoding of choice, stimulus and second-order past state variables resides, up to movement onset, in overlapping populations. The neuronal representation of choice before stimulus onset and its build-up once the stimulus is presented suggest that orbitofrontal cortex plays a role in transforming immediate prior and stimulus information into choices using a compact state-space representation.
Project description:One-choice reaction-time (RT) tasks are used in many domains, including assessments of motor vehicle driving and assessments of the cognitive/behavioral consequences of sleep deprivation. In such tasks, subjects are asked to respond when they detect the onset of a stimulus; the dependent variable is RT. We present a cognitive model for one-choice RT tasks that uses a one-boundary diffusion process to represent the accumulation of stimulus information. When the accumulated evidence reaches a decision criterion, a response is initiated. This model is distinct in accounting for the RT distributions observed for one-choice RT tasks, which can have long tails that have not been accurately captured by earlier cognitive modeling approaches. We show that the model explains performance on a brightness-detection task (a "simple RT task") and on a psychomotor vigilance test. The latter is used extensively to examine the clinical and behavioral effects of sleep deprivation. For the brightness-detection task, the model explains the behavior of RT distributions as a function of brightness. For the psychomotor vigilance test, it accounts for lapses in performance under conditions of sleep deprivation and for changes in the shapes of RT distributions over the course of sleep deprivation. The model also successfully maps the rate of accumulation of stimulus information onto independently derived predictions of alertness. The model is a unified, mechanistic account of one-choice RT under conditions of sleep deprivation.