Decoding and perturbing decision states in real time

Nature. 2021 Mar;591(7851):604-609. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-03181-9. Epub 2021 Jan 20.


In dynamic environments, subjects often integrate multiple samples of a signal and combine them to reach a categorical judgment1. The process of deliberation can be described by a time-varying decision variable (DV), decoded from neural population activity, that predicts a subject's upcoming decision2. Within single trials, however, there are large moment-to-moment fluctuations in the DV, the behavioural significance of which is unclear. Here, using real-time, neural feedback control of stimulus duration, we show that within-trial DV fluctuations, decoded from motor cortex, are tightly linked to decision state in macaques, predicting behavioural choices substantially better than the condition-averaged DV or the visual stimulus alone. Furthermore, robust changes in DV sign have the statistical regularities expected from behavioural studies of changes of mind3. Probing the decision process on single trials with weak stimulus pulses, we find evidence for time-varying absorbing decision bounds, enabling us to distinguish between specific models of decision making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Choice Behavior / physiology
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Judgment
  • Macaca / physiology
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Motion
  • Motion Perception
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Time Factors