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attention, vision, cerebral cortex, computation, optogenetics
Our research is aimed at understanding how neuronal signals in visual cerebral cortex generate perceptions and guide behavior. Our approach is to record from individual neurons in trained, behaving monkeys and mice while they perform visual tasks.
Much of our work is directed at understanding how paying attention to specific visual targets affects the way that they are represented in the brain, and how changes in the sensory representation caused by attention relate to changes in perception and behavior. We have shown that attention increases the strength of neuronal responses without changing their selectivity, effectively representing the attended stimulus as if it were more intense than it really is. Paired measurements of neuronal responses and behavioral performance have shown that much of the behavioral advantage conferred by attention may be explained by this change it causes in the sensory representation, rather than decision processes.
Another line of research has been exploring the more general question of how the activity of given neurons contributes to specific visual behaviors. Measurements of the trial-to-trial correlation between the strength of a neuron's responses to a weak stimulus and the animal's performance detecting that stimulus have shown that different neurons contribute to a greater or lesser degree to particular behaviors depending on which stimuli they are most sensitive to.
We also use electrical and optical microstimulation to explore how different regions in visual cortex contribute to visual perceptions. By measuring the stimulus strength needed to produce a just-detectable stimulus in different cortical areas, we have found that all regions of cerebral cortex are comparable in their ability to produce detectable percepts.