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Nat Commun. 2016 Nov 24;7:13526. doi: 10.1038/ncomms13526.

Global gain modulation generates time-dependent urgency during perceptual choice in humans.

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Institute of Psychology and Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition, Leiden University, 2333 AK Leiden, The Netherlands.
Department of Neurophysiology and Pathophysiology, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, 20246 Hamburg, Germany.


Decision-makers must often balance the desire to accumulate information with the costs of protracted deliberation. Optimal, reward-maximizing decision-making can require dynamic adjustment of this speed/accuracy trade-off over the course of a single decision. However, it is unclear whether humans are capable of such time-dependent adjustments. Here, we identify several signatures of time-dependency in human perceptual decision-making and highlight their possible neural source. Behavioural and model-based analyses reveal that subjects respond to deadline-induced speed pressure by lowering their criterion on accumulated perceptual evidence as the deadline approaches. In the brain, this effect is reflected in evidence-independent urgency that pushes decision-related motor preparation signals closer to a fixed threshold. Moreover, we show that global modulation of neural gain, as indexed by task-related fluctuations in pupil diameter, is a plausible biophysical mechanism for the generation of this urgency. These findings establish context-sensitive time-dependency as a critical feature of human decision-making.

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