Rules warp feature encoding in decision-making circuits

R. Becket Ebitz, Jiaxin Cindy Tu, Benjamin Y. Hayden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We have the capacity to follow arbitrary stimulus-response rules, meaning simple policies that guide our behavior. Rule identity is broadly encoded across decision-making circuits, but there are less data on how rules shape the computations that lead to choices. One idea is that rules could simplify these computations. When we follow a rule, there is no need to encode or compute information that is irrelevant to the current rule, which could reduce the metabolic or energetic demands of decision-making. However, it is not clear if the brain can actually take advantage of this computational simplicity. To test this idea, we recorded from neurons in 3 regions linked to decision-making, the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), ventral striatum (VS), and dorsal striatum (DS), while macaques performed a rule-based decision-making task. Rule-based decisions were identified via modeling rules as the latent causes of decisions. This left us with a set of physically identical choices that maximized reward and information, but could not be explained by simple stimulus-response rules. Contrasting rule-based choices with these residual choices revealed that following rules (1) decreased the energetic cost of decision-making; and (2) expanded rule-relevant coding dimensions and compressed rule-irrelevant ones. Together, these results suggest that we use rules, in part, because they reduce the costs of decision-making through a distributed representational warping in decision-making circuits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere3000951
JournalPLoS biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 30 2020

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

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