Decoding Cognitive Processes from Neural Ensembles

Trends Cogn Sci. 2018 Dec;22(12):1091-1102. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2018.09.002. Epub 2018 Sep 29.


An intrinsic difficulty in studying cognitive processes is that they are unobservable states that exist in between observable responses to the sensory environment. Cognitive states must be inferred from indirect behavioral measures. Neuroscience potentially provides the tools necessary to measure cognitive processes directly, but it is challenged on two fronts. First, neuroscientific measures often lack the spatiotemporal resolution to identify the neural computations that underlie a cognitive process. Second, the activity of a single neuron, which is the fundamental building block of neural computation, is too noisy to provide accurate measurements of a cognitive process. In this paper, I examine recent developments in neurophysiological recording and analysis methods that provide a potential solution to these problems.

Keywords: decision making; high-level cognition; neural decoding; neurophysiology; orbitofrontal cortex.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*