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Nat Neurosci. 2013 Feb;16(2):235-42. doi: 10.1038/nn.3309. Epub 2013 Jan 13.

Inferring decoding strategies from choice probabilities in the presence of correlated variability.

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Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tübingen, Germany.


The activity of cortical neurons in sensory areas covaries with perceptual decisions, a relationship that is often quantified by choice probabilities. Although choice probabilities have been measured extensively, their interpretation has remained fraught with difficulty. We derive the mathematical relationship between choice probabilities, read-out weights and correlated variability in the standard neural decision-making model. Our solution allowed us to prove and generalize earlier observations on the basis of numerical simulations and to derive new predictions. Notably, our results indicate how the read-out weight profile, or decoding strategy, can be inferred from experimentally measurable quantities. Furthermore, we developed a test to decide whether the decoding weights of individual neurons are optimal for the task, even without knowing the underlying correlations. We confirmed the practicality of our approach using simulated data from a realistic population model. Thus, our findings provide a theoretical foundation for a growing body of experimental results on choice probabilities and correlations.

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