The neural basis of decision making.

Department of Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-6074, USA.
Annual Review of Neuroscience (Impact Factor: 22.66). 02/2007; 30:535-74. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.29.051605.113038
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The study of decision making spans such varied fields as neuroscience, psychology, economics, statistics, political science, and computer science. Despite this diversity of applications, most decisions share common elements including deliberation and commitment. Here we evaluate recent progress in understanding how these basic elements of decision formation are implemented in the brain. We focus on simple decisions that can be studied in the laboratory but emphasize general principles likely to extend to other settings.

  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and ventral striatum (VS), including the nucleus accumbens, are key forebrain regions involved in regulating behaviour for future rewards. Dysfunction of these regions can result in impulsivity, characterized by actions that are mistimed and executed without due consideration of their consequences. Here we recorded the activity of single neurons in the mPFC and VS of 16 rats during performance on a five-choice serial reaction time task of sustained visual attention and impulsivity. Impulsive responses were assessed by the number of premature responses made before target stimuli were presented. We found that the majority of cells signalled trial outcome after an action was made (both rewarded and unrewarded). Positive and negative ramping activity was a feature of population activity in the mPFC and VS (49.5 and 50.4% of cells, respectively). This delay-related activity increased at the same rate and reached the same maximum (or minimum) for trials terminated by either correct or premature responses. However, on premature trials, the ramping activity started earlier and coincided with shorter latencies to begin waiting. For all trial types the pattern of ramping activity was unchanged when the pre-stimulus delay period was made variable. Thus, premature responses may result from a failure in the timing of the initiation of a waiting process, combined with a reduced reliance on external sensory cues, rather than a primary failure in delay activity. Our findings further show that the neural locus of this aberrant timing signal may emanate from structures outside the mPFC and VS. © 2015 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
    European Journal of Neuroscience 04/2015; DOI:10.1111/ejn.12895 · 3.67 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: eLife digest Imagine that you have to buy a computer before the start of the school year. You have a few options, such as a laptop or a desktop, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. A laptop is relatively light and portable, whereas a desktop has more memory and is cheaper. You will gradually accumulate evidence for and against each option, but before school starts, you have to make a decision. This gradual accumulation of evidence is an important element in many forms of decision making. It is known that the activity of many regions within the brain seem to represent accumulation of evidence, but relatively little is known about the causal role played by each region in the decision-making process. Now, by performing a series of experiments on rats, Erlich et al. have clarified the precise roles of two of these regions: the frontal orienting fields in prefrontal cortex and the posterior parietal cortex. In the experiments the rats listened to a series of clicks from two speakers, one to the left and one to the right, and then had to decide if more clicks came from the left or the right speaker. The rats normally used all of the accumulated evidence (up to 1 second) for their decision. When the posterior parietal cortex was silenced (using a drug called muscimol), the rats continued to use all of the evidence available to them. However, when the frontal orienting fields were silenced (again using muscimol), decisions were driven only by evidence accumulated over the most recent past (just a few hundred milliseconds). So in the computer example, without the help of the frontal orienting fields, you would choose the laptop if the most recent piece of evidence was for the laptop, even if older evidence argued strongly for the desktop. These results show that the frontal orienting fields are necessary for making decisions based on accumulated evidence, but further experiments suggested that the accumulation process itself seems to happen elsewhere in the brain. Another set of related experiments showed that the posterior parietal cortex is involved in a different type of decision making, namely ‘free choice’ decisions in which the rat decides between two options when there is no correct answer, such as picking a cookie from a pile of identical cookies. DOI:
    eLife Sciences 04/2015; 4. DOI:10.7554/eLife.05457 · 8.52 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Confidence judgments are pivotal in the performance of daily tasks and in many domains of scientific research including the behavioral sciences, psychology and neuroscience. Positive resolution i.e., the positive correlation between choice-correctness and choice-confidence is a critical property of confidence judgments, which justifies their ubiquity. In the current paper, we study the mechanism underlying confidence judgments and their resolution by investigating the source of the inputs for the confidence-calculation. We focus on the intriguing debate between two families of confidence theories. According to single stage theories, confidence is based on the same information that underlies the decision (or on some other aspect of the decision process), whereas according to dual stage theories, confidence is affected by novel information that is collected after the decision was made. In three experiments, we support the case for dual stage theories by showing that post-choice perceptual availability manipulations exert a causal effect on confidence-resolution in the decision followed by confidence paradigm. These finding establish the role of RT2, the duration of the post-choice information-integration stage, as a prime dependent variable that theories of confidence should account for. We then present a novel list of robust empirical patterns ('hurdles') involving RT2 to guide further theorizing about confidence judgments. Finally, we present a unified computational dual stage model for choice, confidence and their latencies namely, the collapsing confidence boundary model (CCB). According to CCB, a diffusion-process choice is followed by a second evidence-integration stage towards a stochastic collapsing confidence boundary. Despite its simplicity, CCB clears the entire list of hurdles. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    Cognitive Psychology 05/2015; 78:99-147. DOI:10.1016/j.cogpsych.2015.01.002 · 3.57 Impact Factor


Available from