Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

A proposed common neural mechanism for categorization and perceptual decisions


One of the most fascinating issues in neuroscience is how the brain makes decisions. Recent evidence points to the parietal cortex as an important locus for certain kinds of decisions. Because parietal neurons are also involved in movements, it has been proposed that decisions are encoded in an intentional, action-based framework based on the movements used to report decisions. An alternative or complementary view is that decisions represent more abstract information not linked to movements per se. Parallel experiments on categorization suggest that parietal neurons can indeed represent abstract categorical outcomes that are not linked to movements. This could provide a unified or complementary view of how the brain decides and categorizes.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout


  1. Glimcher, P.W. & Rustichini, A. Neuroeconomics: the consilience of brain and decision. Science 306, 447–452 (2004).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Padoa-Schioppa, C. Neurobiology of economic choice: a good-based model. Annu. Rev. Neurosci. (in the press).

  3. Gold, J.I. & Shadlen, M.N. The neural basis of decision making. Annu. Rev. Neurosci. 30, 535–574 (2007).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Miller, E.K., Nieder, A., Freedman, D.J. & Wallis, J.D. Neural correlates of categories and concepts. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 13, 198–203 (2003).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Glimcher, P.W. Decisions, Uncertainty, and the Brain: the Science of Neuroeconomics (MIT Press, 2003).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  6. Newsome, W.T., Britten, K.H. & Movshon, J.A. Neuronal correlates of a perceptual decision. Nature 341, 52–54 (1989).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Maunsell, J.H. & Newsome, W.T. Visual processing in monkey extrastriate cortex. Annu. Rev. Neurosci. 10, 363–401 (1987).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Johnston, K. & Everling, S. Neurophysiology and neuroanatomy of reflexive and voluntary saccades in non-human primates. Brain Cogn. 68, 271–283 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Andersen, R.A., Brotchie, P.R. & Mazzoni, P. Evidence for the lateral intraparietal area as the parietal eye field. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 2, 840–846 (1992).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Blatt, G.J., Andersen, R.A. & Stoner, G.R. Visual receptive field organization and cortico-cortical connections of the lateral intraparietal area (area LIP) in the macaque. J. Comp. Neurol. 299, 421–445 (1990).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Lewis, J.W. & Van Essen, D.C. Corticocortical connections of visual, sensorimotor, and multimodal processing areas in the parietal lobe of the macaque monkey. J. Comp. Neurol. 428, 112–137 (2000).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Snyder, L.H., Batista, A.P. & Andersen, R.A. Intention-related activity in the posterior parietal cortex: a review. Vision Res. 40, 1433–1441 (2000).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Goldberg, M.E., Bisley, J.W., Powell, K.D. & Gottlieb, J. Saccades, salience and attention: the role of the lateral intraparietal area in visual behavior. Prog. Brain Res. 155, 157–175 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Bisley, J.W. & Goldberg, M.E. Attention, intention, and priority in the parietal lobe. Annu. Rev. Neurosci. 33, 1–21 (2010).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Shadlen, M.N. & Newsome, W.T. Neural basis of a perceptual decision in the parietal cortex (area LIP) of the rhesus monkey. J. Neurophysiol. 86, 1916–1936 (2001).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Roitman, J.D. & Shadlen, M.N. Response of neurons in the lateral intraparietal area during a combined visual discrimination reaction time task. J. Neurosci. 22, 9475–9489 (2002).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Huk, A.C. & Shadlen, M.N. Neural activity in macaque parietal cortex reflects temporal integration of visual motion signals during perceptual decision making. J. Neurosci. 25, 10420–10436 (2005).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Gold, J.I. & Shadlen, M.N. The influence of behavioral context on the representation of a perceptual decision in developing oculomotor commands. J. Neurosci. 23, 632–651 (2003).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Shadlen, M.N., Kiani, R., Hanks, T.D. & Churchland, A.K. Neurobiology of decision making: an intentional framework. in Better Than Conscious? Decision Making, the Human Mind, and Implications for Institutions (Engel, C. & Singer, W., eds.) 71–102 (MIT Press, 2008).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  20. Kable, J.W. & Glimcher, P.W. The neurobiology of decision: consensus and controversy. Neuron 63, 733–745 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Freedman, D.J. & Assad, J.A. Experience-dependent representation of visual categories in parietal cortex. Nature 443, 85–88 (2006).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Freedman, D.J., Riesenhuber, M., Poggio, T. & Miller, E.K. Categorical representation of visual stimuli in the primate prefrontal cortex. Science 291, 312–316 (2001).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Freedman, D.J., Riesenhuber, M., Poggio, T. & Miller, E.K. A comparison of primate prefrontal and inferior temporal cortices during visual categorization. J. Neurosci. 23, 5235–5246 (2003).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. Williams, Z.M., Elfar, J.C., Eskandar, E.N., Toth, L.J. & Assad, J.A. Parietal activity and the perceived direction of ambiguous apparent motion. Nat. Neurosci. 6, 616–623 (2003).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Toth, L.J. & Assad, J.A. Dynamic coding of behaviourally relevant stimuli in parietal cortex. Nature 415, 165–168 (2002).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Stoet, G. & Snyder, L.H. Single neurons in posterior parietal cortex of monkeys encode cognitive set. Neuron 42, 1003–1012 (2004).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. Gottlieb, J. From thought to action: the parietal cortex as a bridge between perception, action, and cognition. Neuron 53, 9–16 (2007).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Bennur, S. & Gold, J.I. Distinct representations of a perceptual decision and the associated oculomotor plan in monkey area LIP. J. Neurosci. (in the press).

  29. Freedman, D.J. & Assad, J.A. Distinct encoding of spatial and nonspatial visual information in parietal cortex. J. Neurosci. 29, 5671–5680 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  30. Ferrera, V.P., Yanike, M. & Cassanello, C. Frontal eye field neurons signal changes in decision criteria. Nat. Neurosci. 12, 1458–1462 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  31. Wunderlich, K., Rangel, A. & O'Doherty, J.P. Neural computations underlying action-based decision making in the human brain. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 106, 17199–17204 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding authors

Correspondence to David J Freedman or John A Assad.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Freedman, D., Assad, J. A proposed common neural mechanism for categorization and perceptual decisions. Nat Neurosci 14, 143–146 (2011).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing