Perceptual decision making in less than 30 milliseconds

Nat Neurosci. 2010 Mar;13(3):379-85. doi: 10.1038/nn.2485. Epub 2010 Jan 24.


In perceptual discrimination tasks, a subject's response time is determined by both sensory and motor processes. Measuring the time consumed by the perceptual evaluation step alone is therefore complicated by factors such as motor preparation, task difficulty and speed-accuracy tradeoffs. Here we present a task design that minimizes these confounding factors and allows us to track a subject's perceptual performance with unprecedented temporal resolution. We find that monkeys can make accurate color discriminations in less than 30 ms. Furthermore, our simple task design provides a tool for elucidating how neuronal activity relates to sensory as opposed to motor processing, as demonstrated with neural data from cortical oculomotor neurons. In these cells, perceptual information acts by accelerating and decelerating the ongoing motor plans associated with correct and incorrect choices, as predicted by a race-to-threshold model, and the time course of these neural events parallels the time course of the subject's choice accuracy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Color
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Eye Movement Measurements
  • Haplorhini
  • Microelectrodes
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychometrics
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Saccades / physiology
  • Video Recording
  • Visual Perception / physiology*