Dissociating activity in the lateral intraparietal area from value using a visual foraging task
Koorosh Mirpour and James W. Bisley
PNAS June 19, 2012 vol. 109 no. 25 10083-10088
We make decisions about where to look approximately three times per second in normal viewing. It has been suggested that eye movements may be guided by activity in the lateral intraparietal area (LIP), which is thought to represent the relative value of objects in space. However, it is not clear how values for saccade goal selection are prioritized while free-viewing in a cluttered visual environment. To address this question, we compared the neural responses of LIP neurons in two subjects with their saccadic behavior and three estimates of stimulus value. These measures were extracted from the subjects’ performance in a visual foraging task, in which we parametrically controlled the number of objects on the screen. We found that the firing rates of LIP neurons did not correlate well with the animals’ behavior or any of our estimated measures of value. However, if the LIP activity was further normalized, it became highly correlated with the animals’ decisions. These data suggest that LIP activity does not represent value in complex environments, but that the value can easily be extracted with one further step of processing. We propose that activity in LIP represents attentional priority and that the downstream normalization of this activity is an essential process in guiding action.