BMI Distinguished Seminar // Anne Churchland: Movements and engagement during decision-making
When experts are immersed in a task, a natural assumption is that their brains prioritize task-related activity. Accordingly, most efforts to understand neural activity during well-learned tasks focus on cognitive computations and task-related movements. Surprisingly, we observed that during decision-making, the cortex-wide activity of multiple cell types is dominated by movements, especially “uninstructed movements”, that are spontaneously expressed. These observations argue that animals execute expert decisions while performing richly varied, uninstructed movements that profoundly shape neural activity. To understand the relationship between these movements and decision-making, we examined the movements more closely. We tested whether the magnitude or the timing of the movements was correlated with decision-making performance. To do this, we partitioned movements into two groups: task-aligned movements that were well predicted by task events (such as the onset of the sensory stimulus or choice) and task independent movement (TIM) that occurred independently of task events. TIM had a reliable, inverse correlation with performance in head-restrained mice and freely moving rats. This hinted that the timing of spontaneous movements could indicate periods of disengagement. To confirm this, we compared TIM to the latent behavioral states recovered by a hidden Markov model with Bernoulli generalized linear model observations (GLM-HMM) and found these, again, to be inversely correlated. Finally, we examined the impact of these behavioral states on neural activity. Surprisingly, we found that the same movement impacts neural activity more strongly when animals are disengaged. An intriguing possibility is that these larger movement signals disrupt cognitive computations, leading to poor decision-making performance. Taken together, these observations argue that movements and cognition are closely intertwined, even during expert decision-making.
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