Decision Making Journal Club

Dissociating sensory from decision processes in human perceptual decision making

A key question within systems neuroscience is how the brain translates physical stimulation into a behavioral response: perceptual decision making. To answer this question, it is important to dissociate the neural activity underlying the encoding of sensory information from the activity underlying the subsequent temporal integration into a decision variable. Here, we adopted a decoding approach to empirically assess this dissociation in human magnetoencephalography recordings. We used a functional localizer to identify the neural signature that reflects sensory-specific processes, and subsequently traced this signature while subjects were engaged in a perceptual decision making task. Our results revealed a temporal dissociation in which sensory processing was limited to an early time window and consistent with occipital areas, whereas decision-related processing became increasingly pronounced over time, and involved parietal and frontal areas. We found that the sensory processing accurately reflected the physical stimulus, irrespective of the eventual decision. Moreover, the sensory representation was stable and maintained over time when it was required for a subsequent decision, but unstable and variable over time when it was task-irrelevant. In contrast, decision-related activity displayed long-lasting sustained components. Together, our approach dissects neuro-anatomically and functionally distinct contributions to perceptual decisions.