J. Neurosci. 2014;34 2725-2743 Open Access
Primary visual cortex (V1) forms the initial cortical representation of objects and events in our visual environment, and it distributes information about that representation to higher cortical areas within the visual hierarchy. Decades of work have established tight linkages between neural activity occurring in V1 and features comprising the retinal image, but it remains debatable how that activity relates to perceptual decisions. An actively debated question is the extent to which V1 responses determine, on a trial-by-trial basis, perceptual choices made by observers. By inspecting the population activity of V1 from human observers engaged in a difficult visual discrimination task, we tested one essential prediction of the deterministic view: choice-related activity, if it exists in V1, and stimulus-related activity should occur in the same neural ensemble of neurons at the same time. Our findings do not support this prediction: while cortical activity signifying the variability in choice behavior was indeed found in V1, that activity was dissociated from activity representing stimulus differences relevant to the task, being advanced in time and carried by a different neural ensemble. The spatiotemporal dynamics of population responses suggest that short-term priors, perhaps formed in higher cortical areas involved in perceptual inference, act to modulate V1 activity prior to stimulus onset without modifying subsequent activity that actually represents stimulus features within V1.