Variance as a Signature of Neural Computations during Decision Making

Anne K. Churchland, R. Kiani, R. Chaudhuri, Xiao Jing Wang, Alexandre Pouget, M. N. Shadlen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Traditionally, insights into neural computation have been furnished by averaged firing rates from many stimulus repetitions or trials. We pursue an analysis of neural response variance to unveil neural computations that cannot be discerned from measures of average firing rate. We analyzed single-neuron recordings from the lateral intraparietal area (LIP), during a perceptual decision-making task. Spike count variance was divided into two components using the law of total variance for doubly stochastic processes: (1) variance of counts that would be produced by a stochastic point process with a given rate, and loosely (2) the variance of the rates that would produce those counts (i.e., " conditional expectation" ). The variance and correlation of the conditional expectation exposed several neural mechanisms: mixtures of firing rate states preceding the decision, accumulation of stochastic " evidence" during decision formation, and a stereotyped response at decision end. These analyses help to differentiate among several alternative decision-making models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)818-831
Number of pages14
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 24 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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