Untangling cognition and action in the brain
Cognition and action are typically studied separately and are assumed to recruit largely non-overlapping neural structures. Little is known about how cognitive and action processes interact, especially for actions beyond simple instructed movements used in laboratory behaviors. Here, we tracked a vast array of movements in mice making decisions about auditory/visual stimuli, measured neural activity across the entire dorsal cortex, and developed a model to connect single-trial neural activity to movement and cognitive variables. Neural activity reflected both kinds of variables, but was dominated by movements. Using new methods, we then partitioned average neural activity into cognitive and movement components. This revealed that neurons with similar average responses could reflect utterly different combinations of cognitive and movement variables. Taken together, our observations argue that cognitive functions and movements can be tightly intertwined, and that during cognition, movements are a much higher priority than previously believed.
Dr. Churchland is the principal investigator of the Churchland Lab at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
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