Previous studies have shown that neural activity in primate dorsal premotor cortex (PMd) can simultaneously represent multiple potential movement plans, and that activity related to these movement options is modulated by their relative subjective desirability. These findings support the hypothesis that decisions about actions are made through a competition within the same circuits that guide the actions themselves. This hypothesis further predicts that the very same cells that guide initial decisions will continue to update their activities if an animal changes its mind. For example, if a previously selected movement option suddenly becomes unavailable, the correction will be performed by the same cells that selected the initial movement, as opposed to some different group of cells responsible for online guidance. We tested this prediction by recording neural activity in the PMd of a monkey performing an instructed-delay reach selection task. In the task, two targets were simultaneously presented and their border styles indicated whether each would be worth 1, 2, or 3 juice drops. In a random subset of trials (FREE), the monkey was allowed a choice while in the remaining trials (FORCED) one of the targets disappeared at the time of the GO signal. In FORCED-LOW trials the monkey was forced to move to the less valuable target and started moving either toward the new target (Direct) or toward the target that vanished and then curved to reach the remaining one (Curved). Prior to the GO signal, PMd activity clearly reflected the monkey's subjective preference, predicting his choices in FREE trials even with equally valued options. In FORCED-LOW trials, PMd activity reflected the switch of the monkey's plan as early as 100 ms after the GO signal, well before movement onset (MO). This confirms that the activity is not related to feedback from the movement itself, and suggests that PMd continues to participate in action selection even when the animal changes its mind on-line. These findings were reproduced by a computational model suggesting that switches between action plans can be explained by the same competition process responsible for initial decisions.
Keywords: biased competition; computational model; decision-making; free choice; monkey; motor planning; movement preparation; reach.