Simple perceptual tasks have laid the groundwork for understanding the neurobiology of decision-making. Here, we examined this foundation to explain how decision-making circuitry adjusts in the face of a more difficult task. We measured behavioral and physiological responses of monkeys on a two- and four-choice direction-discrimination decision task. For both tasks, firing rates in the lateral intraparietal area appeared to reflect the accumulation of evidence for or against each choice. Evidence accumulation began at a lower firing rate for the four-choice task, but reached a common level by the end of the decision process. The larger excursion suggests that the subjects required more evidence before making a choice. Furthermore, on both tasks, we observed a time-dependent rise in firing rates that may impose a deadline for deciding. These physiological observations constitute an effective strategy for handling increased task difficulty. The differences appear to explain subjects' accuracy and reaction times.
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We thank A. Boulet, C. Lea, M. Mihali and K. Skypeck for technical assistance. This work was supported by the US National Institutes of Health (EY011378 and RR00166) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
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Churchland, A., Kiani, R. & Shadlen, M. Decision-making with multiple alternatives. Nat Neurosci 11, 693–702 (2008) doi:10.1038/nn.2123
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