Temporally Unconstrained Decoding Reveals Consistent but Time-Varying Stages of Stimulus Processing.
Vidaurre D., Myers NE., Stokes M., Nobre AC., Woolrich MW.
In this article, we propose a method to track trial-specific neural dynamics of stimulus processing and decision making with high temporal precision. By applying this novel method to a perceptual template-matching task, we tracked representational brain states associated with the cascade of neural processing, from early sensory areas to higher order areas that are involved in integration and decision making. We address a major limitation of the traditional decoding approach: that it relies on consistent timing of these processes over trials. Using a TUDA approach, we found that the timing of the cognitive processes involved in perceptual judgments can vary considerably over trials. This revealed that the sequence of processing states was consistent for all subjects and trials, even when the timing of these states varied. Furthermore, we found that the specific timing of states on each trial was related to the quality of performance over trials. Altogether, this work not only highlights the serious pitfalls and misleading interpretations that result from assuming stimulus processing to be synchronous across trials but can also open important avenues to investigate learning and quantify plasticity.