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Anne Churchland; Rodents as a platform for understanding visually-guided decisions. Journal of Vision 2014;14(15):7. doi: 10.1167/14.15.7.
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Recent decades have been witness to tremendous strides in visual neuroscience. Many advances in decision-making relied on a traditional approach: measuring the responses of neurons in cortical and subcortical structures while primates were presented with visual stimuli. Although this approach has laid a foundation for understanding how visual signals are transformed from extrastriate areas to parietal cortex and beyond, it is insufficient to provide a complete understanding of how visual inputs guide choice. First, the traditional approach puts aside the fact that the default operation of the visual system is to merge visual inputs with inputs from other sensory modalities. This merging is evident when animals detect predators, examine food, size-up potential mates, and so on. Second, the traditional approach has been limited by the restricted set of tools available in non-human primates for perturbing and measuring neural responses. Emerging research in rodent decision-making begins to tackle outstanding questions about how visual inputs guide choice. New decision-making paradigms, suited to both humans and rodents, have demonstrated striking similarities in how the two species integrate visual information over time and across sensory modalities. Further, by leveraging tools for targeted neural circuit manipulation, this new approach has begun to reveal how and when distinct pathways are recruited to support decision-making. The inclusion of rodents in decision-making studies does not obviate the need for non-human primates. The increasing complexity of the visual system from rodents to non-human primates to humans argues that the use of multiple species is essential. However, a coordinated effort is needed. For the field to take advantage of multiple species, it is essential to develop behavioral paradigms that invite a shared strategy across many species. A shared strategy can be the hallmark of canonical cortical computations that are conserved from rodents to non-human primates, and ultimately all the way to humans.
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