Visual Neuroscience

Linking performance and neural mechanisms in adults

Linking neural activity to complex decisions


a1 Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Center for Visual Science, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York

a2 Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, University of Rochester Medical Center, Center for Visual Science, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York


In the 1990s, seminal work from Newsome and colleagues made it possible to study the neuronal mechanisms of simple perceptual decisions. The key strength of this work was the clear and direct link between neuronal activity and choice processes. Since then, a great deal of research has extended these initial discoveries to more complex forms of decision making, with the goal of bringing the same strength of linkage between neural and psychological processes. Here, we discuss the progress of two such research programs, namely our own, that are aimed at understanding memory-guided decisions and reward-guided decisions. These problems differ in the relevant brain areas, in the progress that has been achieved, and in the extent of broader understanding achieved so far. However, they are unified by the use of theoretical insights about how to link neuronal activity to decisions.

(Received May 28 2013)

(Accepted August 14 2013)

(Online publication September 16 2013)


  • Working memory;
  • Decision making;
  • Choice probability;
  • Reward;
  • Prefrontal cortex