A low-frequency oscillatory neural signal in humans encodes a developing decision variable

Jan Kubanek, Lawrence H. Snyder, Bingni W. Brunton, Carlos D. Brody, Gerwin Schalk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


We often make decisions based on sensory evidence that is accumulated over a period of time. How the evidence for such decisions is represented in the brain and how such a neural representation is used to guide a subsequent action are questions of considerable interest to decision sciences. The neural correlates of developing perceptual decisions have been thoroughly investigated in the oculomotor system of macaques who communicated their decisions using an eye movement. It has been found that the evidence informing a decision to make an eye movement is in part accumulated within the same oculomotor circuits that signal the upcoming eye movement. Recent evidence suggests that the somatomotor system may exhibit an analogous property for choices made using a hand movement. To investigate this possibility, we engaged humans in a decision task in which they integrated discrete quanta of sensory information over a period of time and signaled their decision using a hand movement or an eye movement. The discrete form of the sensory evidence allowed us to infer the decision variable on which subjects base their decision on each trial and to assess the neural processes related to each quantum of the incoming decision evidence. We found that a low-frequency electrophysiological signal recorded over centroparietal regions strongly encodes the decision variable inferred in this task, and that it does so specifically for hand movement choices. The signal ramps up with a rate that is proportional to the decision variable, remains graded by the decision variable throughout the delay period, reaches a common peak shortly before a hand movement, and falls off shortly after the hand movement. Furthermore, the signal encodes the polarity of each evidence quantum, with a short latency, and retains the response level over time. Thus, this neural signal shows properties of evidence accumulation. These findings suggest that the decision-related effects observed in the oculomotor system of the monkey during eye movement choices may share the same basic properties with the decision-related effects in the somatomotor system of humans during hand movement choices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)795-808
Number of pages14
StatePublished - Dec 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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