Correlation of neural activity with behavioral kinematics reveals distinct sensory encoding and evidence accumulation processes during active tactile sensing

I. Delis, Jacek Dmochowski, Paul Sajda, Q. Wang

Many real-world decisions rely on active sensing, a dynamic process for directing our sensors (e.g. eyes or fingers) across a stimulus to maximize information gain. Though ecologically pervasive, limited work has focused on identifying neural correlates of the active sensing process. In tactile perception, we often make decisions about an object/surface by actively exploring its shape/texture. Here we investigate the neural correlates of active tactile decision-making by simultaneously measuring electroencephalography (EEG) and finger kinematics while subjects interrogated a haptic surface to make perceptual judgments. Since sensorimotor behavior underlies decision formation in active sensing tasks, we hypothesized that the neural correlates of decision-related processes would be detectable by relating active sensing to neural activity. Novel brain-behavior correlation analysis revealed that three distinct EEG components, localizing to right-lateralized occipital cortex (LOC), middle frontal gyrus (MFG), and supplementary motor area (SMA), respectively, were coupled with active sensing as their activity significantly correlated with finger kinematics. To probe the functional role of these components, we fit their single-trial-couplings to decision-making performance using a hierarchical-drift-diffusion-model (HDDM), revealing that the LOC modulated the encoding of the tactile stimulus whereas the MFG predicted the rate of information integration towards a choice. Interestingly, the MFG disappeared from components uncovered from control subjects performing active sensing but not required to make perceptual decisions. By uncovering the neural correlates of distinct stimulus encoding and evidence accumulation processes, this study delineated, for the first time, the functional role of cortical areas in active tactile decision-making.

Accepted 17 March 2018
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