Rapid Visuomotor Responses Reflect Value-Based Decisions

J Neurosci. 2019 May 15;39(20):3906-3920. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1934-18.2019. Epub 2019 Mar 8.


Cognitive decision-making is known to be sensitive to the values of potential options, which are the probability and size of rewards associated with different choices. Here, we examine whether rapid motor responses to perturbations of visual feedback about movement, which mediate low-level and involuntary feedback control loops, reflect computations associated with high-level value-based decision-making. In three experiments involving human participants, we varied the value associated with different potential targets for reaching movements by controlling the distributions of rewards across the targets (Experiment 1), the probability with which each target could be specified (Experiment 2), or both (Experiment 3). We found that the size of rapid and involuntary feedback responses to movement perturbations was strongly influenced by the relative value between targets. A statistical model of relative value that includes a term for risk sensitivity provided the best fit to the visuomotor response data, illustrating that feedback control policies are biased to favor more frequent task success at the expense of the overall extrinsic reward accumulated through movement. Importantly however, the regulation of rapid feedback responses was associated with successful pursuit of high-value task outcomes. This implies that when we move, the brain specifies a set of feedback control gains that enable low-level motor areas not only to generate efficient and accurate movement, but also to rapidly and adaptively respond to evolving sensory information in a manner consistent with value-based decision-making.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Current theories of sensorimotor control suggest that, rather than selecting and planning the details of movements in advance, the role of the brain is to set time-varying feedback gains that continuously transform sensory information into motor commands by feedback control. Here, we examine whether the fastest motor responses to perturbations of movement, which mediate low-level and involuntary feedback control loops (i.e., reflexes), reflect computations associated with high-level, value-based decision-making. We find that rapid feedback responses during reaching reflect the relative probabilities and rewards associated with target options. This suggests that low-order components of the sensorimotor control hierarchy, which generate rapid and automatic responses, can continuously evaluate evolving sensory evidence and initiate responses according to the prospect of reward.

Keywords: decision-making; involuntary movement; reflex; value-based choice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Feedback, Sensory*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • ROC Curve
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult