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John P. Sheppard, David Raposo, Anne K. Churchland; Dynamic weighting of multisensory stimuli shapes decision-making in rats and humans. Journal of Vision 2013;13(6):4. doi: 10.1167/13.6.4.
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Stimuli that animals encounter in the natural world are frequently time-varying and activate multiple sensory systems together. Such stimuli pose a major challenge for the brain: Successful multisensory integration requires subjects to estimate the reliability of each modality and use these estimates to weight each signal appropriately. Here, we examined whether humans and rats can estimate the reliability of time-varying multisensory stimuli when stimulus reliability changes unpredictably from trial to trial. Using an existing multisensory decision task that features time-varying audiovisual stimuli, we independently manipulated the signal-to-noise ratios of each modality and measured subjects' decisions on single- and multi-sensory trials. We report three main findings: (a) Sensory reliability influences how subjects weight multisensory evidence even for time-varying, stochastic stimuli. (b) The ability to exploit sensory reliability extends beyond human and nonhuman primates: Rodents and humans both weight incoming sensory information in a reliability-dependent manner. (c) Regardless of sensory reliability, most subjects are disinclined to make “snap judgments” and instead base decisions on evidence presented over the majority of the trial duration. Rare departures from this trend highlight the importance of using time-varying stimuli that permit this analysis. Taken together, these results suggest that the brain's ability to use stimulus reliability to guide decision-making likely relies on computations that are conserved across species and operate over a wide range of stimulus conditions.
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