A fluctuation-driven mechanism for slow decision processes in reverberant networks

PLoS One. 2008 Jul 2;3(7):e2534. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002534.


The spike activity of cells in some cortical areas has been found to be correlated with reaction times and behavioral responses during two-choice decision tasks. These experimental findings have motivated the study of biologically plausible winner-take-all network models, in which strong recurrent excitation and feedback inhibition allow the network to form a categorical choice upon stimulation. Choice formation corresponds in these models to the transition from the spontaneous state of the network to a state where neurons selective for one of the choices fire at a high rate and inhibit the activity of the other neurons. This transition has been traditionally induced by an increase in the external input that destabilizes the spontaneous state of the network and forces its relaxation to a decision state. Here we explore a different mechanism by which the system can undergo such transitions while keeping the spontaneous state stable, based on an escape induced by finite-size noise from the spontaneous state. This decision mechanism naturally arises for low stimulus strengths and leads to exponentially distributed decision times when the amount of noise in the system is small. Furthermore, we show using numerical simulations that mean decision times follow in this regime an exponential dependence on the amplitude of noise. The escape mechanism provides thus a dynamical basis for the wide range and variability of decision times observed experimentally.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Nerve Net*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*