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Neuroimage. 2012 Nov 15;63(3):1393-403. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.08.027. Epub 2012 Aug 16.

Human visual and parietal cortex encode visual choices independent of motor plans.

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1
Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, Charité Universitätsmedizin, Berlin, Germany. martin.hebart@bccn-berlin.de

Abstract

Perceptual decision-making entails the transformation of graded sensory signals into categorical judgments. Often, there is a direct mapping between these judgments and specific motor responses. However, when stimulus-response mappings are fixed, neural activity underlying decision-making cannot be separated from neural activity reflecting motor planning. Several human neuroimaging studies have reported changes in brain activity associated with perceptual decisions. Nevertheless, to date it has remained unknown where and how specific choices are encoded in the human brain when motor planning is decoupled from the decision process. We addressed this question by having subjects judge the direction of motion of dynamic random dot patterns at various levels of motion strength while measuring their brain activity with fMRI. We used multivariate decoding analyses to search the whole brain for patterns of brain activity encoding subjects' choices. To decouple the decision process from motor planning, subjects were informed about the required motor response only after stimulus presentation. Patterns of fMRI signals in early visual and inferior parietal cortex predicted subjects' perceptual choices irrespective of motor planning. This was true across several levels of motion strength and even in the absence of any coherent stimulus motion. We also found that the cortical distribution of choice-selective brain signals depended on stimulus strength: While visual cortex carried most choice-selective information for strong motion, information in parietal cortex decreased with increasing motion coherence. These results demonstrate that human visual and inferior parietal cortex carry information about the visual decision in a more abstract format than can be explained by simple motor intentions. Both brain regions may be differentially involved in perceptual decision-making in the face of strong and weak sensory evidence.

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