Neural basis for categorical boundaries in the primate pre-SMA during relative categorization of time intervals.
Mendoza G., Méndez JC., Pérez O., Prado L., Merchant H.
Perceptual categorization depends on the assignment of different stimuli to specific groups based, in principle, on the notion of flexible categorical boundaries. To determine the neural basis of categorical boundaries, we record the activity of pre-SMA neurons of monkeys executing an interval categorization task in which the limit between short and long categories changes between blocks of trials within a session. A large population of cells encodes this boundary by reaching a constant peak of activity close to the corresponding subjective limit. Notably, the time at which this peak is reached changes according to the categorical boundary of the current block, predicting the monkeys' categorical decision on a trial-by-trial basis. In addition, pre-SMA cells also represent the category selected by the monkeys and the outcome of the decision. These results suggest that the pre-SMA adaptively encodes subjective duration boundaries between short and long durations and contains crucial neural information to categorize intervals and evaluate the outcome of such perceptual decisions.