Our senses convert the world around us to representations in the brain. For vision alone, over 20 maps of visual space have been identified in each cerebral hemisphere. We are investigating the neurophysiological processes that transform the evidence in our visual maps into signals that are appropriate to guide behavior.
We record neural activity from the cerebral cortex during performance of a visual discrimination. We have identified sites in the brain where the visual data are represented and sites critical to the expression of a perceptually guided behavior, such as the generation of eye movements. We sneak between these areas by targeting neurons in cortical association areas that reveal a plan to enact a behavior. Since this plan reflects an interpretation of the visual data, our neurophysiological recordings divulge the subject's visual perception or impression. By combining electrophysiological, psychophysical, and computational techniques we can begin to elucidate the underlying neural circuitry. How do "planning" neurons maintain a response determined by sensory input that came and went seconds ago? Which inputs affect the plan and how are they selected? These are the secrets of cognition.
Figure above designed by Victor de Lafuente and Ranulfo Romo, and illustrated by Erin Boyle. As printed in News & Views, Nature Neuroscience 2003.
For a more technical overview of our research please see this Essay