Reading Hidden Intentions in the Human Brain

Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.
Current Biology (Impact Factor: 9.57). 03/2007; 17(4):323-8. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2006.11.072
Source: PubMed


When humans are engaged in goal-related processing, activity in prefrontal cortex is increased. However, it has remained unclear whether this prefrontal activity encodes a subject's current intention. Instead, increased levels of activity could reflect preparation of motor responses, holding in mind a set of potential choices, tracking the memory of previous responses, or general processes related to establishing a new task set. Here we study subjects who freely decided which of two tasks to perform and covertly held onto an intention during a variable delay. Only after this delay did they perform the chosen task and indicate which task they had prepared. We demonstrate that during the delay, it is possible to decode from activity in medial and lateral regions of prefrontal cortex which of two tasks the subjects were covertly intending to perform. This suggests that covert goals can be represented by distributed patterns of activity in the prefrontal cortex, thereby providing a potential neural substrate for prospective memory. During task execution, most information could be decoded from a more posterior region of prefrontal cortex, suggesting that different brain regions encode goals during task preparation and task execution. Decoding of intentions was most robust from the medial prefrontal cortex, which is consistent with a specific role of this region when subjects reflect on their own mental states.

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Available from: Chris D Frith,
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    • "There has been considerable neuroscience research reported on the primary brain system(s) involved in immediate intentions, in large part because of the greater simplicity of the problem and the greater ease with which it can be represented and manipulated experimentally. Much of this research involves studies of a phenomenon known as prospective memory (remembering to perform an intended action in the future), with results indicating that several areas within the prefrontal cortex play a central role in the formation and maintenance of intentions delayed into the future (den Ouden, Frith, Frith et al., 2005; Haynes, Sakai, Rees et al., 2007; Burgess, Gonen-Yaacovi, & Volle, 2011). "
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    DESCRIPTION: This short monograph describes the motivational system that underlies childbearing, as represented by the author's Traits-Desires-Intentions Behavior framework. It then examines how the three motivational components of this framework are related to consciousness, how they are affected by executive functions, and how they are represented and integrated within the brain. Finally, it briefly describes how this motivational system affects the set of behaviors that influence reproductive outcomes.
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    • "However, to gain deeper insight into cognitive processing, it is important to assess information processing in these regions throughout the course of the task. Multivariate methods provide a possible way to achieve this, by discerning more finely grained aspects of information processing from patterns of voxel activation that form the multivariate fMRI blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) time series (Haynes and Rees, 2006; Kriegeskorte et al., 2006; Norman et al., 2006; Haynes et al., 2007). These methods can illuminate different stages of cognitive processing and thereby enhance our understanding of the computations occurring in specific regions. "
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    ABSTRACT: Multivariate pattern analysis can reveal new information from neuroimaging data to illuminate human cognition and its disturbances. Here, we develop a methodological approach, based on multivariate statistical/machine learning and time series analysis, to discern cognitive processing stages from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) time series. We apply this method to data recorded from a group of healthy adults whilst performing a virtual reality version of the delayed win-shift radial arm maze (RAM) task. This task has been frequently used to study working memory and decision making in rodents. Using linear classifiers and multivariate test statistics in conjunction with time series bootstraps, we show that different cognitive stages of the task, as defined by the experimenter, namely, the encoding/retrieval, choice, reward and delay stages, can be statistically discriminated from the BOLD time series in brain areas relevant for decision making and working memory. Discrimination of these task stages was significantly reduced during poor behavioral performance in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), but not in the primary visual cortex (V1). Experimenter-defined dissection of time series into class labels based on task structure was confirmed by an unsupervised, bottom-up approach based on Hidden Markov Models. Furthermore, we show that different groupings of recorded time points into cognitive event classes can be used to test hypotheses about the specific cognitive role of a given brain region during task execution. We found that whilst the DLPFC strongly differentiated between task stages associated with different memory loads, but not between different visual-spatial aspects, the reverse was true for V1. Our methodology illustrates how different aspects of cognitive information processing during one and the same task can be separated and attributed to specific brain regions based on information contained in multivariate patterns of voxel activity.
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    • "Further support for our interpretation comes from the study by Soon et al. (2008) involving simple voluntary movements. As described in the introduction, these authors could demonstrate that activity in a very similar region (MNI coordinates x = 33, y = 69, z = 12) differentiated between voluntary left/right motor choices well ahead of the subjectively felt time of decision (see also Haynes et al., 2007; Momennejad & Haynes, 2012). It should be noted that Soon et al. used a multi-voxel pattern analysis approach, while we used a classical fMRI analysis. "
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    ABSTRACT: The distinct feeling of wanting to act and thereby causing our own actions is crucial to our self-perception as free human agents. Disturbances of the link between intention and action occur in several disorders. Little is known, however, about the neural correlates of wanting or intending to act. To investigate these for simple voluntary movements, we used a paradigm involving hypnotic paralysis and functional magnetic resonance imaging. Eight healthy women were instructed to sequentially perform left and right hand movements during a normal condition, as well as during simulated weakness, simulated paralysis and hypnotic paralysis of the right hand. Right frontopolar cortex was selectively hypoactivated for attempted right hand movement during simulated paralysis while it was active in all other conditions. Since simulated paralysis was the only condition lacking an intention to move, the activation in frontopolar cortex might be related to the intention or volition to move. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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