Decision making is a vital component of human and animal behavior that involves selecting between alternative options and generating actions to implement the choices. Although decisions can be as simple as choosing a goal and then pursuing it, humans and animals usually have to make decisions in dynamic environments where the value and the availability of an option change unpredictably with time and previous actions. A predator chasing multiple prey exemplifies how goals can dynamically change and compete during ongoing actions. Classical psychological theories posit that decision making takes place within frontal areas and is a separate process from perception and action. However, recent findings argue for additional mechanisms and suggest the decisions between actions often emerge through a continuous competition within the same brain regions that plan and guide action execution. According to these findings, the sensorimotor system generates concurrent action-plans for competing goals and uses online information to bias the competition until a single goal is pursued. This information is diverse, relating to both the dynamic value of the goal and the cost of acting, creating a challenging problem in integrating information across these diverse variables in real time. We introduce a computational framework for dynamically integrating value information from disparate sources in decision tasks with competing actions. We evaluated the framework in a series of oculomotor and reaching decision tasks and found that it captures many features of choice/motor behavior, as well as its neural underpinnings that previously have eluded a common explanation.
In high-pressure situations, such as driving on a highway or flying a plane, people have limited time to select between competing options while acting. Each option is usually accompanied with reward benefits (e.g., avoid traffic) and action costs (e.g., fuel consumption) that characterize the value of the option. The value and the availability of an option can change dynamically even during ongoing actions which compounds the decision-making challenge. How the brain dynamically integrates value information from disparate sources and selects between competing options is still poorly understood. In the current study, we present a neurodynamical framework to show how a distributed brain network can solve the problem of value integration and action selection in decisions with competing alternatives. It combines dynamic neural field theory with stochastic optimal control theory, and includes circuitry for perception, expected reward, effort cost and decision-making. It provides a principled way to explain both the neural and the behavioral findings from a series of visuomotor decision tasks in human and animal studies. For instance, the model shows how the competitive interactions between populations of neurons within and between sensorimotor regions can result in “spatial-averaging” movements, and how decision-variables influence neural activity and choice behavior.