A micro-pool model for decision-related signals in visual cortical areas.
The study of sensory signaling in the visual cortex has been greatly advanced by the recording of neural activity simultaneously with the performance of a specific psychophysical task. Individual nerve cells may also increase their firing leading up to the particular choice or decision made on a single psychophysical trial. Understanding these signals is important because they have been taken as evidence that a particular nerve cell or group of nerve cells in the cortex is involved in the formation of the perceptual decision ultimately signaled by the organism. However, recent analyses show that the size of a decision-related change in firing in a particular neuron is not a secure basis for concluding anything about the contribution of a single neuron to the formation of a decision: rather the size of the decision-related firing is expected to be dominated by the extent to which the activation of a single neuron is correlated with the firing of the pool of neurons. The critical question becomes what defines membership of a population of neurons. This article presents the proposal that groups of neurons are naturally linked together by their connectivity, which in turn reflects the previous history of sensory stimulations. When a new psychophysical task is performed, a group of neurons relevant to the judgment becomes involved because the firing of some neurons in that group is strongly relevant to the task. This group of neurons is called a micro-pool. This article examines the consequences of such a proposal within the visual nervous system. The main focus is on the signals available from single neurons, but it argued that models of choice-related signals must scale up to larger numbers of neurons because MRI and MEG studies also show evidence of similar choice signals.