How attention and decision-related signals alter neural representations of sensory stimuli

Attention and decision related signals can alter the neural representations of sensory stimuli in several ways. Attention can modulate how strongly sensory information is represented in the brain. For example, when we attend to a particular sensory stimuli the neurons that represent that stimulus become more active, and their responses become more precise.

Decision related signals can also alter neural representations of sensory stimuli by biasing the processing of sensory information in favor of a particular decision. For example, when making a decision between two stimuli, the neural representation of the chosen stimulus becomes enhanced while the neural representation of the unchosen stimulus becomes suppressed.

In summary, attention, and decision related signals can alter the neural representations of sensory stimuli by selectively enhancing or suppressing certain neural responses, leading to more precise and biased processing of sensory information. Attention enhances the neural representations of behaviorally relevant stimuli, typically by a push–pull increase of the neuronal response gain to attended vs. unattended stimuli. This selectively improves perception and consequently behavioral performance.

However, to enhance the detectability of stimulus changes, attention might also distort neural representations, compromising accurate stimulus representation. We test this hypothesis by recording neural responses in the visual cortex of rhesus monkeys during a motion direction change detection task. We find that attention indeed amplifies the neural representation of direction changes, beyond a similar effect of adaptation.

We further show that humans overestimate such direction changes, providing a perceptual correlate of our neurophysiological observations. Our results demonstrate that attention distorts the neural representations of abrupt sensory changes and consequently perceptual accuracy. This likely represents an evolutionary adaptive mechanism that allows sensory systems to flexibly forgo accurate representation of stimulus features to improve the encoding of stimulus change.


Laura Zukerman

Owner and Founder At The Goddess Bibles

A Memoir By Laura Zukerman

Becoming Your Inner Goddess/God

Goddess/God On Fire ❤

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