The essence of cognition is choice, and to understand choice we need to understand how neurons in the brain generate decisions in complex settings. To make a decision, the brain must combine different sources of information by weighing them based on their relevance. Past studies have typically gained insight into neural mechanisms of decision-making by recording from one or a small number of neurons at a time and by analyzing the average neural responses across several decisions. However, this approach has its limitations and understanding how decisions are made at the neural level has so far proved challenging. We plan to record from hundreds of neurons simultaneously in multiple brain areas while monkeys make a choice. We expect to be able to predict the monkey’s choices ahead of time based on our large-scale neural recordings. In addition, we will use the data to understand how different functional modules in the brain communicate and coordinate their response to form a decision and execute an action. Our studies will enable better understanding of cognition, and guide development of artificial systems that can mimic human decision-making. Moreover, they will facilitate better treatments for deficits in the decision-making process in cognitive and mental disorders.
Roozbeh Kiani, New York University