A sampling-based circuit for optimal decision making

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 (NeurIPS 2021)

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Camille Rullán Buxó, Cristina Savin


Many features of human and animal behavior can be understood in the framework of Bayesian inference and optimal decision making, but the biological substrate of such processes is not fully understood. Neural sampling provides a flexible code for probabilistic inference in high dimensions and explains key features of sensory responses under experimental manipulations of uncertainty. However, since it encodes uncertainty implicitly, across time and neurons, it remains unclear how such representations can be used for decision making. Here we propose a spiking network model that maps neural samples of a task-specific marginal distribution into an instantaneous representation of uncertainty via a procedure inspired by online kernel density estimation, so that its output can be readily used for decision making. Our model is consistent with experimental results at the level of single neurons and populations, and makes predictions for how neural responses and decisions could be modulated by uncertainty and prior biases. More generally, our work brings together conflicting perspectives on probabilistic brain computation.