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Front Neurosci. 2010 Nov 23;4:190. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2010.00190. eCollection 2010.

Complementary roles of systems representing sensory evidence and systems detecting task difficulty during perceptual decision making.

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Laboratory of Brain and Cognition, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health Bethesda, MD, USA.


Perceptual decision making is a multi-stage process where incoming sensory information is used to select one option from several alternatives. Researchers typically have adopted one of two conceptual frameworks to define the criteria for determining whether a brain region is involved in decision computations. One framework, building on single-unit recordings in monkeys, posits that activity in a region involved in decision making reflects the accumulation of evidence toward a decision threshold, thus showing the lowest level of BOLD signal during the hardest decisions. The other framework instead posits that activity in a decision-making region reflects the difficulty of a decision, thus showing the highest level of BOLD signal during the hardest decisions. We had subjects perform a face detection task on degraded face images while we simultaneously recorded BOLD activity. We searched for brain regions where changes in BOLD activity during this task supported either of these frameworks by calculating the correlation of BOLD activity with reaction time - a measure of task difficulty. We found that the right supplementary eye field, right frontal eye field, and right inferior frontal gyrus had increased activity relative to baseline that positively correlated with reaction time, while the left superior frontal sulcus and left middle temporal gyrus had decreased activity relative to baseline that negatively correlated with reaction time. We propose that a simple mechanism that scales a region's activity based on task demands can explain our results.


evidence accumulation; fMRI; face perception

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