Neural circuits for novel choices and for choice speed and accuracy changes in macaques

Pub chat after talk. Details will be announced at the beginning of the talk.

While most experimental tasks aim at isolating simple cognitive processes to study their neural bases, naturalistic behaviour is often complex and multidimensional. I will present two studies revealing previously uncharacterised neural circuits for decision-making in macaques. This was possible thanks to innovative experimental tasks eliciting sophisticated behaviour, bridging the human and non-human primate research traditions.
Firstly, I will describe a specialised medial frontal circuit for novel choice in macaques. Traditionally, monkeys receive extensive training before neural data can be acquired, while a hallmark of human cognition is the ability to act in novel situations. I will show how this medial frontal circuit can combine the values of multiple attributes for each available novel item on-the-fly to enable efficient novel choices. This integration process is associated with a hexagonal symmetry pattern in the BOLD response, consistent with a grid-like representation of the space of all available options. We prove the causal role played by this circuit by showing that focussed transcranial ultrasound neuromodulation impairs optimal choice based on attribute integration and forces the subjects to default to a simpler heuristic decision strategy.
Secondly, I will present an ongoing project addressing the neural mechanisms driving behaviour shifts during an evidence accumulation task that requires subjects to trade speed for accuracy. While perceptual decision-making in general has been thoroughly studied, both cognitively and neurally, the reasons why speed and/or accuracy are adjusted, and the associated neural mechanisms, have received little attention. We describe two orthogonal dimensions in which behaviour can vary (traditional speed-accuracy trade-off and efficiency) and we uncover independent neural circuits concerned with changes in strategy and fluctuations in the engagement level. The former involves the frontopolar cortex, while the latter is associated with the insula and a network of subcortical structures including the habenula.